The Government’s goal is for Norway to be a pioneer in developing an integrated, ecosystem-based management regime for marine areas. The Government will therefore continue to use the system of management plans for sea areas. An overall framework for petroleum activities will be established in the management plan for each sea area.
Purpose of the management plan
The purpose of this management plan is to provide a framework for the sustainable use of natural resources and ecosystem services derived from the North Sea and Skagerrak and at the same time maintain the structure, functioning, productivity and diversity of the area’s ecosystems. The management plan is thus a tool for both facilitating value creation and maintaining the high environmental value of the area.
Intensively used and economically important
The North Sea–Skagerrak area is Norway’s most intensively used sea area and one of the most heavily trafficked in the world. Norwegian society derives major assets from its use. The bulk of Norway’s oil and gas production and thus value creation by the industry takes place in the North Sea. In addition, the North Sea is biologically productive. There are major fisheries in the area, which is fished by both coastal and deep-sea fishing vessels. Moreover, the Skagerrak is particularly important for small-scale fisheries, and is also the sea area of Norway that is most heavily used for outdoor recreation. The high level of activity combined with a number of potentially conflicting interests places considerable demands on the management regime.
Concern about the state of the environment
Since the 1970s, much has been done to improve the environmental status in the North Sea and Skagerrak, and particularly to reduce the pollution load. Nevertheless, the state of the environment still gives cause for concern and is unsatisfactory in many ways. These waters are naturally rich and productive, but the different types of pressures on the environment entail considerable management challenges. Concentrations of hazardous substances are higher in the North Sea and Skagerrak than in Norway’s other sea areas, and the concentration of marine litter is higher than anywhere else in the Northeast Atlantic. Water quality is good in the coastal current, but eutrophication and sediment deposition may affect water quality in near-coastal waters and fjords. Moreover, a number of seabird populations have declined and certain fish stocks are in poor condition. Climate change and ocean acidification are creating new challenges that will require a long-term approach to management of the North Sea and Skagerrak. This means that we need to take steps to improve environmental status and ecosystem resilience, and strengthen the basis for continued value creation through use and harvesting of the North Sea and Skagerrak.
International responsibility and national action
The North Sea and Skagerrak are shared between eight countries. Due to the direction of the ocean currents and prevailing winds, pollution from other countries is carried into Norwegian waters. Cooperation with the other North Sea countries and the combined efforts of all these countries are therefore of crucial importance for achieving good environmental status.
Management plans in place for all Norway’s sea areas
With the publication of this management plan for the Norwegian part of the North Sea and Skagerrak, the Government has established management plans as the basis for integrated ecosystem-based management of all Norwegian sea areas. The other management plans have been published as the white papers Integrated Management of the Marine Environment of the Barents Sea and the Sea Areas off the Lofoten Islands (Report No. 8 (2005–2006) to the Storting) and Integrated Management of the Marine Environment of the Norwegian Sea (Report No. 37 (2008–2009) to the Storting). The first update has been published as the white paper First update of the Integrated Management Plan for the Marine Environment of the Barents Sea–Lofoten Area, Meld. St. 10 (2010–2011).
The management plans clarify the overall framework and encourage closer coordination and clear priorities for management of Norway’s sea areas. They increase predictability and facilitate coexistence between industries that are based on the use of these sea areas and their natural resources. The management plans are also intended to be instrumental in ensuring that business interests, local, regional and central authorities, environmental organisations and other interest groups all have a common understanding of the goals for the management of the area in question. The Government will continue and further develop the system of management plans, and make it more effective.
The present management plan and the measures described in it apply primarily to the open sea in the Norwegian part of the North Sea and Skagerrak, i.e. the areas outside the baseline, in Norway’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone northwards to latitude 62 °N (off the Stad peninsula).
Basis for the management plan
Work on this management plan was organised along the same lines as for previous management plans. It was coordinated by an interministerial Steering Committee including all the relevant ministries and headed by the Ministry of the Environment. An important feature of the management plan system is that relevant subordinate agencies and key research institutions cooperate in drawing up the scientific basis for the plans. The scientific basis for the North Sea–Skagerrak management plan was prepared by an Expert Group headed by the Climate and Pollution Agency and including representatives of the Directorate for Nature Management, the Directorate of Fisheries, the Institute of Marine Research, the Coastal Administration, the National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research, the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, the Norwegian Institute for Water Research, the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate, the Petroleum Directorate, the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway, the Maritime Directorate and the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority. Two advisory groups for the management plans, the Advisory Group on Monitoring (headed by the Institute of Marine Research), and the Forum on Environmental Risk Management (headed by the Norwegian Coastal Administration) have also been involved.
Participation by interested parties is also an important element of the management plan work, in the form of consultation on the background reports and consultative meetings during the process of developing the plan. After the Expert Group had delivered the scientific basis to the ministries, a conference was held in Haugesund in May 2012 to give all interested parties an opportunity to discuss the reports.
The management plan is based on both existing and new knowledge about ecosystems, ecological goods and services and resources that are important as a basis for value creation in the management plan area, and about trends in environmental status, pressures and impacts on the environment, and environmental risk. Studies have also been carried out to assess commercial activities and social conditions and ecological goods and services.
Particularly valuable and vulnerable areas
Particularly valuable and vulnerable areas are those that on the basis of scientific assessments have been identified as being of great importance for biodiversity and for biological production in the entire North Sea-Skagerrak area. Areas may for example be identified as particularly valuable and vulnerable because they are important habitats or spawning grounds for fish, important habitats for seabirds, or contain coral reefs. Areas were selected using predefined criteria. The main criteria were that the area concerned was important for biodiversity or for biological production. The vulnerability of valuable areas to various environmental pressures has also been assessed on the basis of the species and habitats that occur naturally in each area and their productivity. The vulnerability of a habitat or species to different environmental pressures varies, and has been assessed on the basis of the likely impacts of different pressures on species or habitat development and survival. There may also be temporal and spatial variations in vulnerability. Thus the vulnerability of an area is considered to be an intrinsic property of the species and habitats to be found there, regardless of whether or not specific environmental pressures are actually acting on them.
The scientific basis for the management plan identifies 12 particularly valuable areas, eight along the coast and four in open sea areas in the North Sea. All of them are generally vulnerable, but their vulnerability varies depending on which pressures act in a particular area and at which times of year. In addition, the coastal zone has been identified as a generally valuable area.
Activities, value creation and management
The most important industries in the North Sea and Skagerrak today are fisheries, shipping, petroleum activity and tourism. Other industries such as possible future developments in offshore energy, marine bioprospecting, and prospecting for minerals on the seabed are also discussed in this white paper. The importance of marine ecosystem services for value creation and Norwegian society is also discussed.
Fisheries and the seafood industry: Fisheries in the management plan area are conducted by Norwegian and foreign vessels, including EU vessels that have been allocated quotas in Norway’s exclusive economic zone during negotiations on bilateral agreements. The share of the total catch value in Norwegian waters taken in the North Sea and Skagerrak is on average 25 %. The corresponding figure for catch quantity is on average 23 %.
Most aquaculture activity along the coastline bordering the management plan area is concentrated in the counties of Western Norway, along the North Sea coast. Fish farms in the counties of Sogn og Fjordane, Hordaland and Rogaland hold 31 % of all licences issued for salmon and trout farming in Norway. Aquaculture is not regulated in this management plan, but the industry is affected by environmental conditions in the North Sea and Skagerrak. In 2010, the aquaculture industry in Western Norway contributed NOK 13.7 billion to Norway’s GDP, while the corresponding figure for Eastern Norway (counties along the Skagerrak coast) was NOK 2.7 billion.
Norway shares most of its fish resources with other countries, so that international cooperation on their management is essential. The EU is Norway’s main partner in the North Sea and Skagerrak. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Norway and the EU have an obligation to cooperate on the management of shared fish stocks in this sea area.
Shipping: The North Sea and Skagerrak are important shipping areas. There are several important transport routes, for example for vessels in transit along the Norwegian coast to northern waters, traffic to and from the Baltic Sea, and traffic between the major ports in Norway and other North Sea countries. The North Sea and Skagerrak are used by every vessel category and to transport all kinds of cargo.
There is a larger volume of shipping in the North Sea and Skagerrak than in other Norwegian sea areas, and it is more complex. The southern part of the management plan area is very heavily trafficked, and three-quarters of maritime transport in the North Sea take place outside Norway’s exclusive economic zone.
The value added generated by shipping-related industries in the management plan area in 2009 is calculated at NOK 54.0 billion. This is 4.6 % of total value added generated in the management plan area, and somewhat higher than these industries’ share of employment. International shipping is the largest shipping-related industry, and generated value added of more than NOK 42 billion (including spin-off effects).
New traffic separation schemes and recommended routes were introduced in the management plan area in July 2011 to route larger vessels (gross tonnage over 5000) and ships carrying dangerous or polluting goods much further away from the coast. The objective of these schemes is to reduce both the probability of accidents and the consequences of any oil spills in the event of accidents.
Petroleum activities: The North Sea was the starting point for Norway’s petroleum industry, and much of the area was opened for exploration as early as 1965. Production started in 1971 on the Ekofisk field. The North Sea still has considerable petroleum potential and will generate substantial value added for many years to come.
The petroleum industry is by far the largest of the industries in the management plan area in terms of both value added and employment.
According to figures from 2010, a total of 68 fields are on stream on the Norwegian continental shelf, 55 of them in the North Sea. In the same year, the North Sea fields accounted for about two-thirds of production on the Norwegian shelf, or 153 million Sm3 oil equivalents. Ekofisk, Oseberg, Troll and Statfjord are large and important fields in the North Sea. In 2010, the first three of these accounted for 40 % of oil and gas production in the North Sea and 28 % of total production on the Norwegian shelf. The North Sea fields are mainly oil-producing.
The oil and gas industry is Norway’s largest, measured in terms of value added, state revenues and export value. It currently generates about one fifth of Norway’s total value added and a quarter of state revenues. Oil and gas account for half of the total value of Norway’s exports. In 2009, value added from oil and gas extraction in the North Sea was about NOK 310 billion.
Travel and tourism and leisure activities: The sea and coast are very important areas for the travel and tourism industry and for leisure activities in Norway. The coastline bordering the management plan area is very attractive and heavily used by the local population. The coastal and marine environment is important for this sector in a variety of ways: it provides enjoyment, opportunities to engage in a variety of activities and health benefits. In addition, the coastal and marine environment is an important basis for economic activity in the tourism and travel industry at both local and national levels.
In 2007, the tourism industry in the North Sea and Skagerrak counties provided NOK 25 billion in total value added, and employment for 58 000 people.
Offshore energy, marine bioprospecting and mineral extraction: Offshore renewable energy production includes offshore wind power, wave power, marine current power, tidal power and osmotic power. At present, offshore wind power is a marginal sector in Norwegian waters, but it has a very large potential. However, developments in the years ahead are uncertain, among other things because of the high costs.
Many marine organisms are likely to have properties that can be exploited and used in the manufacture of new products and processes in a number of industrial sectors. Marine bioprospecting therefore has a potential for value creation, and Norway is considered to be in a good position to make its mark internationally in this field.
At present, there is no mineral extraction from the seabed in the North Sea and Skagerrak or in other Norwegian sea areas. However, there has been little exploration of the seabed in the management plan area. Better mapping and the development of new technology may lead to value creation from seabed mineral deposits.
Ecosystem services: Ecosystem services are the benefits – goods and services – that people obtain from ecosystems. Opportunities for value creation and earnings in sectors such as fisheries, aquaculture and travel and tourism in future will depend on the state of the environment.
Ecosystem services from the oceans also include processes such as water purification and waste treatment, maintenance of ecosystem stability and climate regulation. Most ecosystem services are public goods. They are not traded in markets and therefore have no market price. Thus, the cost of damage to such services does not appear in company budgets or ordinary accounts, at any rate not in the short term. This increases the risk of their degradation, which can undermine the basis for future prosperity. One of the main purposes of the management plan is to coordinate different interests and weigh up their importance so as to ensure that ecosystem services that are not traded in markets are also managed sustainably, so that their economic value and ecological importance are maintained.
Spatial management – challenges and coexistence between industries
The intensive use of the North Sea and Skagerrak puts considerable pressure on these waters, and it is important to maintain renewable resources and prevent damage to the marine environment.
A differentiated and sustainable spatial management regime must be based on knowledge of ecosystems and the impacts of different forms of use. Digital spatial management and mapping tools are extensively used in the management plan system to illustrate different types of use and protection of marine areas.
Cooperation between the countries around the North Sea and Skagerrak is crucial, both to address problems in these sea areas and to exchange experience of integrated marine management.
Acute pollution: risk and preparedness and response
Risk is defined as a combination of the probability of an event occurring as a result of human activity and the consequences of that event, taking uncertainties into account. Risk is not static, but changes over time along depending on the activities in an area and factors such as the implementation of measures, training, introduction of new technology and updating of legislation.
Environmental risk expresses the probability of a spill of oil or other environmentally hazardous substances combined with the scale of the expected environmental damage, taking uncertainties into account.
Shipping. An analysis of the probability of acute pollution from shipping in the management plan area shows that the predicted frequency of spills is higher near the coast, and highest along the coast of Western Norway, roughly between Stavanger and the Sognefjorden.
Preventive measures are very important for avoiding loss of human life and material assets, and for protecting society and the environment from pollution. Thus, emergency tugboat services, traffic surveillance and control, and traffic separation schemes are effective measures that substantially reduce the probability of acute pollution from shipping along the mainland coast.
Petroleum activity. Petroleum activity is higher in the North Sea than in other parts of the Norwegian continental shelf. However, collation of data on acute pollution incidents involving the petroleum industry on the Norwegian continental shelf with various activity indicators shows that there is no direct linear relationship between activity level and the number or size of spills.
Cumulative environmental effects: environmental impacts and costs
The industries in and associated with the North Sea and Skagerrak can put pressure on ecosystems, and much has been done to reduce their impacts and the pressure on the environment. Nevertheless, there are still substantial environmental problems, related both to different types of pressures and to the state of individual species and habitat types. There is concern about the cumulative environmental effects of all the different pressures on the marine environment. In future, the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification may cause serious problems and increase ecosystem vulnerability. Current, planned and future commercial activity in the management plan area must take into account the environmental problems that have been identified and the cumulative effects on the area.
All ecosystem components in the North Sea and Skagerrak are affected by one or several human activities. This white paper presents analyses of different sectors that were drawn up as part of the management plan process. These analyses indicate that most pressures have only minor environmental impacts, although a few have major impacts. Long-term measurement series show changes over time in the North Sea and Skagerrak. Some of the changes can be directly linked to human activity, while in other cases the causal relationships are much more complex. In many of the cases where cause and effect are clearly understood, steps have been taken to reduce the impacts of a pressure. However, despite this there are still problems to be addressed.
The greatest cumulative effects are considered to be on certain fish stocks and seabird species. Threatened species and habitat types and populations that are declining are particularly vulnerable to any increase in cumulative effects. Habitat fragmentation and degradation is considered to be a serious threat to biodiversity today, in marine environments as elsewhere.
Although each source of disturbance or damage may put little pressure on the environment, their combined effects together with those of activities in other North Sea countries result in the cumulative effects and problems that have been identified in the management plan area. The environmental impacts of any spills and other accidents are additional to those of normal activities and releases of pollutants. In the event of a large oil spill, seabirds and the shoreline are expected to be most seriously affected.
The impacts it is most difficult to do anything about are those of the rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which are resulting in global warming, a higher CO2 content in seawater and ocean acidification. For many of the other pressures, it will be possible to take steps that result in good environmental status in the long term.
Goals for management of the North Sea and Skagerrak
In this white paper, the Government presents a set of goals for management of the North Sea and Skagerrak. They are intended to reflect relevant national and international goals for the environment and value creation. They are also based on the purpose of this management plan, and apply to all activities in the North Sea and Skagerrak management plan area.
Measures for the conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems
With the measures presented in this white paper, the Government intends to provide a framework for continued value creation from the North Sea and Skagerrak through the sustainable use of the natural resources and ecosystem services of the area, and at the same time contribute to improvement of the state of the environment and reduce the cumulative environmental effects on the ecosystems of the area.
Management of the North Sea and Skagerrak must be based on the best available knowledge. The Government will therefore continue to build up knowledge about environmental conditions, value creation and commercial activities in the North Sea and Skagerrak in the period leading up to the first update of the management plan.