Creating a dynamic blue economy in the North Atlantic

- The potential for aquaculture

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Commissioner Vella, Ministers, Mr Shestakov, Mr Rosser, Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. I am pleased to be here with you in Valletta today.

First of all I'd like to thank the Commissioner for inviting us to his beautiful Mediterranean home nation. Surrounded by the blue ocean, I believe we have the perfect point of departure for fruitful dialogue and discussions over the next few days. And we are already off to a really good start.

I listened to the presentations given before lunch with great interest. Not only is it evident that our national perspectives on the sustainable management of the oceans are rich and complementing. But it is clear that we have a lot to learn from each other when it comes to creating a dynamic blue economy in the North Atlantic.

One where a healthy aquaculture industry is at the core!

We live in a world in dramatic change. While our climate is shifting, world population is increasing by the day. By 2050 there will be 9 billion people on Earth. The demand for clean and affordable energy will surge. And, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – food demand will increase by a staggering 100%.

Feeding a growing world population IS one of the major challenges facing the global community today.

And fish and seafood ARE a crucial part of the solution.

The UN has repeatedly recognized the significant contribution of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture to food-security; income and wealth; and poverty reduction - for present and future generations.

In fact, we will not succeed in reducing poverty and creating peace - if we do not succeed in eliminating hunger. As a crucial source of protein and other essential nutrients and micronutrients - seafood could play a key role in combating hunger and malnutrition worldwide.

The potential is great.

I wish to use this opportunity to talk about sustainable growth in aquaculture and the importance of providing a growing world population with proteins. But let me first reflect a bit on the immense opportunity the fisheries and aquaculture industries represent in a world where food quickly is becoming a scarce resource.

First of all, and as most of you already know, the marine areas, which represent 70% of the world's surface, are vast and under-utilized. Less than 5% of the global food production derives from the sea. At the same time aquaculture is significantly more space efficient than agriculture - and has considerably lower CO2 emissions compared to the production of beef and other foods.

In short the potential for sustainable growth and wealth creation within fisheries and aquaculture is great.

However, at the same time the state of the world marine fisheries is worsening. While more people than ever before rely on fisheries and aquaculture for food and as a source of income, harmful practices and poor management threaten the industry's sustainability – and survival.

This cannot continue!

We must find ways to produce food so that it does not put the health of our ecological environment at risk.

The good news is that we have more and more examples showing that marine sectors such as fisheries and aquaculture can be managed in a way that meets the three dimensions of sustainability - environmental, social and economic.

Over the past years we have several examples showing that declining trends in fish catches can be turned around with the right incentives and the right management. One example is the North East Atlantic Cod, which currently is at a historically high level.

Our goal should be to see more examples like this going forward!

Because while fish and seafood represent viable solutions to the global challenge of food scarcity – it is our responsibility to make sure that these opportunities are harvested. In the best possible way - for the oceans – and for future generations.

Shipping and fisheries have influenced and shaped the Norwegian society for centuries. Most Norwegians live close to the sea, and this proximity has made us curious. Curious about what the sea offers. And curious about what lies beyond our own shore. This curiosity has prompted an international perspective, both in our marine and maritime traditions for centuries.

Fisheries has been a backbone of the Norwegian economy and a major source of export income for the past 1000 years.

Although deeply rooted in our long marine traditions, the aquaculture industry is a relatively young industry in the Norwegian context. Still over the course of the past 40 years, the industry has grown at a healthy margin and today forms an important platform for future growth and welfare for the Norwegian economy.

Employing some 23 600 people in total, the aquaculture industry brings activity and jobs to rural coastal areas. Last year alone the industry exported salmon and trout for some 46 billion NOK (6 billion USD).

With the expected downturn in activity levels on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, the importance of the aquaculture industry to the Norwegian economy is likely to increase in the years to come.

So how is it that we are where we are today? And what are the main challenges the industry is facing?

The Norwegian aquaculture industry would not be where it is today without the entrepreneurs who followed their dreams and made bold choices to invest their money in an uncertain and risky business.

Further reinforced by long term and strategic efforts with respect to research and innovation, and a sound regulatory framework, the industry has grown substantially in the 40 years of its existence.

Another key success factor for the Norwegian aquaculture industry has been the close collaboration between the industry, authorities and research. In this respect, one of the major success areas has been the development of efficient vaccines – which has dramatically reduced the use of antibiotics in the production of Norwegian salmon. While a number of countries still use substantial amounts of antibiotics in their salmon production, I am proud to say Norway used less than 500 kg of antibiotics in the production of 1,2 million tons of Atlantic salmon last year. In short - the use of antibiotics in Norwegian salmon production is virtually nonexistent.

Yet, our most important comparative advantage today is our long history of taking care of our oceans. Because more than anything, sustainable and profitable fisheries require a healthy ocean.

It was therefore only natural that the concern for fisheries and the ocean came before the interest of the oil companies when we started exploration and production activities on the Norwegian Continental Shelf some 40 years ago.

The future prospects of the aquaculture industry is great. Both because of the growing international market for seafood, and because of the strong brand name of Norwegian salmon.

However, in order for Norway to remain a world leading aquaculture nation, and a world leading producer and exporter of salmon, we must think about securing future growth. This growth must be sustainable and within the boundaries of the oceans eco-systems.

The Norwegian Government wishes to facilitate growth and competitiveness for the aquaculture industry, also in the years ahead. This means helping the industry facing short term challenges, such as sea lice and escapes – and long term challenges such as the use of coastal areas and feed resources.

We are currently developing indicators to measure the effect of escapes and sea lice on wild stock. This will be a crucial new management tool for the industry – and I am convinced that it will further reinforce the already good practices of the aquaculture industry when it comes to sustainability.

Another concrete and recent step taken by the Norwegian Government is the White Paper on the long term sustainable and predictable growth in the Norwegian Aquaculture industry. The White Paper, which was presented to the Parliament in June this year, investigates how we can ensure sustainable production and reduce the total environmental influence from fish farming.

In short, I believe that three key factors that will contribute to sustainable growth in the industry are; technological development, good management and sharing of knowledge and competence.

First of all, we must further reinforce our investments in technological development. This is key in order to ensure future long-term growth in the aquaculture industry. Technological development, for instance with respect to aquaculture installations, feed, vaccines and spreading of disease, will increase profitability and facilitate sustainable development within the industry.

Secondly, we must enforce efficient and solid management systems and control mechanisms that ensure sustainable growth. Both in order to entice investments and research and development. And in order to efficiently safeguard the environment.

Thirdly, we must share knowledge and competence. The global economy, and the aquaculture industry, is in dramatic change. The industry is faced with challenges. Challenges none of us will be able to solve alone. Cooperation between nations, and within nations, is essential in order to persevere – and to ensure that sustainable food production systems are put in place that provide sufficient food to a growing world population.

But we can do more than share with our partners and stakeholders here in the North Atlantic. Aquaculture has a huge potential in many developing countries as a means of producing more food, increasing income and lowering poverty levels.

Let me give you an example; Norway has been involved in a number of marine development projects in recent years, for instance in Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

Sixteen years ago Vietnam and Norway signed an MoU to develop a new fishing and aquaculture Act in Vietnam. The Act has been in force some 10 years now - and aims to ensure an environmentally and economically sustainable fishing industry. It furthermore seeks to provide fishermen and fish farmers with stable framework conditions.

As a result of the Act, in 2007 local fish farmers in Thang Loi in Vietnam were granted licenses for fish farming. The licenses have enabled fish farmers to raise capital - and it has ultimately led to increased business activity.

According to the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) the number of the population in Thang Loi living below the poverty line was reduced from 48 % to 18 % from 2007 to 2012. This is believed to be partly due to the new legislation.

Sustainable trade and sound economic activity enables poverty reduction and increased living standards. I believe aquaculture can play an even more critical role in this respect in the years ahead.

The world is faced with almost insurmountable challenges. Food security is one of these. Farmed fish represents a viable and healthy opportunity. An opportunity that must be seized and managed well.

The North Atlantic nations have – with our extensive marine histories and competence – a comparative advantage. We are well positioned to further develop our aquaculture industries, and to ensure that the global industry takes on a sustainable path.

Cooperation and sharing of know-how is essential for the development of a sustainable seafood production in the years to come.

This also applies to the fight against fisheries crime, which is very high (up) on my agenda.

Only through international cooperation will we be able to combat all aspects of this hazard – which includes illegal catching of fish as well as tax fraud, customs fraud, embezzlement, organized crime, human trafficking and corruption.

That is why Norway earlier this year initiated the North Atlantic Fisheries Intelligence Group. In this group, the members – Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Denmark, Iceland and Norway – will work together to strengthen the information exchange on everything from illegal flow of capital to social dumping within the fishing industry. We hope to see more nations supporting these efforts and have already invited Canada, the US and Spain to join the group.

Illegal fishing and trading is not only a threat to sustainability and the environment. It also provides the basis for a vast black economy. This simply cannot continue! And all of us have a role to play in this respect.

This is in many respects the year of sustainability. The UN is set to agree on a new post 2015 development agenda and new Sustainable Development Goals at its summit in September. Only a few months later, heads of state, businesses leaders and civil society will convene in Paris to agree on a new binding climate agreement.

Some say this is the year when the Earth's destiny will be carved out.

Yet, to quote the British Science Fiction author Arthur Clarke, "How inappropriate is it not to call this planet Earth. When it is quite clearly Ocean."

If we succeed in Paris, the ocean will indeed be a winner.

Nevertheless we must continue our efforts to assure that the North Atlantic nations remains at the forefront with respect to developing a sustainable and blue ocean economy.

I look forward to the rest of this conference today and to bilateral talks with good colleagues tomorrow.

Thank you for your attention!