The Norwegian Sea has a rich and varied natural environment that supports high biological production. There are substantial fisheries throughout the year, the most important of which are for Norwegian spring-spawning herring, blue whiting, Northeast Arctic saithe and Northeast Atlantic mackerel. There are also large petroleum deposits in the Norwegian Sea. In September 2009, 12 fields were on stream, and a further two – Morvin and Skarv – were under development but had not yet started production. There is a possibility that wind farms will be established in the Norwegian Sea. The near-shore areas are important in terms of transport. In addition, the Norwegian Sea is an important area for tourism based on enjoyment of the natural environment and for recreational fishing.
The state of the Norwegian Sea environment is generally good. However, management of the area poses considerable challenges, particularly as regards the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, overfishing of certain fish stocks, the risk of acute pollution, the decline of seabird populations and the need for protection of coral habitats. The Government considers it important to safeguard the ecosystems of the Norwegian Sea over the long term, so that they continue to be clean, rich and productive. The present integrated, ecosystem-based management plan will serve as a basis for these efforts.
The Government intends the management plan to provide a framework for value creation and co-existence between industries through the sustainable use of natural resources and ecosystem services. In addition, ecosystem structure, functioning and productivity must be sustained and the diversity of the natural environment protected. The management plan clarifies the overall framework for both existing and new activities, and also facilitates continued value creation based on the resources of the Norwegian Sea. Until now, the various forms of use of Norway’s sea areas and their resources have been assessed and managed in relative isolation. The many different pressures and impacts that affect ecosystems and species have not been taken sufficiently into account, and nor has the principle that the cumulative effects must not exceed sustainable levels. The management plan will thus be used as a tool both to facilitate value creation and to maintain the high environmental value of the area. Commercial activities in the Norwegian Sea area have spin-off effects on employment and value creation in mainland Norway. The white paper therefore describes both environmental conditions in the Norwegian Sea and the importance of the area for commercial activities and social conditions in the four counties that border on the Norwegian Sea. The management plan is 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 Norwegian Sea.
Special caution needed in particularly valuable and vulnerable areas
This white paper continues the system of identifying geographically defined areas within the management plan area that contain particularly valuable environmental assets, which was introduced in the management plan for the Barents Sea–Lofoten area. These areas were selected using predefined criteria. The main criteria were that the area concerned was important for biodiversity or for biological production; secondary criteria included economic importance, social and cultural importance, and scientific value. The vulnerability of particularly valuable areas was assessed in terms of the resilience of species and habitats to external anthropogenic pressures such as fisheries, maritime transport, petroleum activities and long-range transboundary pollution. Eleven particularly valuable areas have been identified in the Norwegian Sea, and their vulnerability has been assessed. The need to maintain ecological goods and services in the areas identified as particularly valuable and vulnerable has determined the Government’s choice of spatial management tools.
Cumulative environmental effects
The Norwegian Sea is Norway’s largest sea area, and is about three times the size of mainland Norway. Large parts of the water masses and the deep seabed beyond the continental shelf are relatively unaffected by direct pressures from human activity; these are mainly concentrated in the continental shelf areas near the Norwegian coast. Harvesting of biological production by the fisheries has the greatest impact on ecosystems. For certain fish stocks, the cumulative effects have been assessed as so serious that they are vulnerable to even a small increase in human pressures. The greatest cumulative effects are on certain fish stocks, seabird species and seabed habitats. There are also considered to be major effects on corals, sponges and other benthic fauna. Moreover, many seabird populations are declining, and are therefore particularly vulnerable to an increase in cumulative effects. Hazardous substances are having a considerable impact on certain seabird species, particularly in the northernmost parts of the management plan area, and on polar bears. Bioaccumulation of pollutants in fish is another problem, but with our current knowledge it is not possible to say what effects the observed concentrations will have on individuals and stocks. 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 from a blow-out or shipwreck, seabirds and the shoreline are expected to be most seriously affected, while impacts on earlier stages of fish life cycles and coastal seals are likely to be less serious. The Government intends to take action to reduce the cumulative effects of human activities in the management plan area.
Climate change and ocean acidification
There has been growing awareness of the impacts of climate change on the marine environment, and this issue is discussed separately in the white paper. The predicted impacts include changes in sea temperature, ocean currents and sea level. Furthermore, as the atmospheric CO2 concentration rises, more CO2 is taken up by sea water, making the oceans more acidic. It is very uncertain how rapidly and in which ways climate change will affect the Norwegian Sea environment. Furthermore, changes may be camouflaged by large natural fluctuations in the period up to 2025. The impacts of ocean acidification are expected to become apparent more quickly, and adverse impacts may be felt before 2025. Calcifying phyto- and zooplankton species, corals and cephalopods are some of the most vulnerable organisms. The Government will strengthen knowledge building and monitoring in this field so that the management regime can be adapted as closely as possible to the predicted changes.
Facilitating the coexistence of different industries
A key purpose of the management plan is to facilitate the coexistence of different industries in the management plan area. Direct conflicts of interests can arise between competing uses of the same area, for example by the fishing industry and the oil and gas industry. Future developments, such as using parts of the Norwegian Sea for wind power production, are included in the chapter on possible conflicts of interests. The plan also gives an account of the processes that are under way to minimise conflicts of interest. The Government will require that commercial activities in the Norwegian Sea are planned and conducted in ways that minimise conflicts of interests.
Risk and risk management
All human activities carry a certain risk of unforeseen incidents. The level of risk associated with an activity is a combination of the probability of an event occurring and the consequences of the event. Risk analyses are being conducted and preventive measures taken to minimise the risk that commercial activities in the Norwegian Sea will have adverse environmental impacts. The Government considers it important to ensure that there is an emergency response system in place that can prevent and reduce adverse environmental impacts as far as possible in the event that accidents do occur.
Further development of an integrated, ecosystem-based management regime
The present white paper is based on two earlier white papers, Protecting the Riches of the Seas (Report No. 12 (2001–2002) to the Storting) and 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). It is intended to reinforce and further develop the implementation of an integrated, ecosystem-based management regime for Norwegian sea areas. The Nature Management Act (Proposition No. 52 (2008–2009) to the Storting) and the new Marine Resources Act, which entered into force on 1 January 2009, are important steps in this process.
The management plans for Norway’s sea areas set out the overall political and strategic framework and guidelines for management across sectors, and describe the measures that are to be implemented for the conservation and sustainable use of these areas. Norwegian law determines the overall legislative framework (purpose, goals and principles) for management of the sea areas, and lays down which measures can and must be implemented under the legislation. Integrated, ecosystem-based management regimes for sea areas are also being developed internationally. Two EU directives, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (adopted on 17 June 2008) and the 2000 Water Framework Directive, are particularly important for the protection of Norwegian sea areas, for example against long-range transboundary pollution. The management plan for the Barents Sea–Lofoten area has aroused a great deal of international interest. For example, the European Commission involved Norway in the preparation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The Government will continue the development of an integrated, ecosystem-based marine management regime by following up the present management plan, revising the management plan for the Barents Sea–Lofoten area in 2010 and preparing an ecosystem-based management plan for the North Sea by 2015. The Government will also continue to take part in cooperation in international forums on integrated, ecosystem-based management of the seas.
A knowledge-based management regime
Norway’s management plans for sea areas are based on currently available knowledge of ecosystem structure and functioning, and of the impacts of human activity on ecosystems. The Government has therefore attached great importance to building up a sound scientific basis for this management plan. Information has been compiled on environmental conditions, commercial activities in the Norwegian Sea area and social conditions in the counties that border on the Norwegian Sea, in order to establish a common factual basis for action. Thorough scientific investigations have shown that we already have a considerable body of knowledge about the Norwegian Sea and about the marine environment and living marine resources in general. Nevertheless, gaps in our knowledge have been identified in a number of areas. The Government will seek to further strengthen our knowledge of the Norwegian Sea ecosystems and the causes and impacts of environmental pressures in the area.