OCEAN | NOU 2023:23 – New report on Norwegian aquaculture for sustainable value creation
While the Report itself does not lead to immediate legislative changes, it sets out several recommendations and proposals for the public administration of Norwegian aquaculture and the regulatory framework going forward. Depending on whether and to what extent the Government choses to action on the recommendations, the Report may play an important role in the future of sea-based aquaculture in Norway.
Key proposals of the Committee include adjustments to the current “traffic light system” (the management tool used in Norwegian aquaculture to regulate production based on environmental impact) and innovative ideas for growth by incentivizing the use of new and environmentally friendly technology. In light of this, the Committee recommends moving away from the current approach of reducing production capacity in areas with unacceptable environmental impact (“red” areas in the traffic light system), which today is an important instrument in regulating production based on the environmental status of a production area.
This newsletter sets out some main takeaways from the Report, along with a brief status of other regulatory processes concerning aquaculture in Norway.
A newsletter regarding the Report is also available in Norwegian here.
Traditional coastal fish farming
Atlantic salmon is the most common farmed species in Norwegian aquaculture and generating the most value. The Report primarily addresses traditional coastal fish farming of salmon, trout and rainbow trout and proposes several changes to the regulatory framework and the public administration relating to farming of these species.
The Report also addresses coastal farming of other species, of which cod, char and halibut are currently the most relevant. There has been increasing interest in farming of other species in Norway in the recent years, particularly cod farming. The Report proposes significant changes to the licensing regime for cod farming, including proposing auctioning of new cod licenses (as opposed to the current approach of awarding such licenses on a running basis upon application and with no license fee).
Land-based fish farming and offshore aquaculture
The Report only mentions land-based farming and offshore aquaculture where such production affects coastal aquaculture. It is worth noting that, while not part of this Report, new regulations for land-based licenses are currently subject to a separate public consultation round. Regulatory changes for land-based farming are proposed in order to define requirements for the physical location of the facility and introduce technical requirements relating to the facility to reduce the risk of disease transmission to sea. This public hearing process has been delayed and it is not clear what the technical requirements will consist of, if any. Consequently, there is uncertainty surrounding the proposal for land-based fish farming, which also includes smolt production.
With respect to offshore aquaculture (fish farming outside of today’s coastal production areas), an overall regime for identifying suitable areas and the process of allocating licenses was implemented in Norwegian aquaculture legislation in 2022. The government is currently working on establishing more detailed regulations for awarding offshore licenses. According to the estimated timeline of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries, the first licensing round for offshore licenses will take place in 2024. The final award of offshore aquaculture licenses will subsequently take place after several steps such as impact assessments and sector approvals. This process is not addressed in the Report.
Key proposals in the Report
With the aim of achieving greater value creation, sustainability and improved biosecurity, the Committee has explored ways to improve the implementation of environmental considerations and overall area planning.
Key proposals and takeaways from the Report include:
- Greater responsibility for central government authority for more coordinated planning: The Committee suggests that the central governmental authorities (in practice the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries) should assume more responsibility in developing and adopting area plans for the sea, providing more autonomy to state authorities and a less fragmented public administration of aquaculture compared to today’s situation. The Committee also suggests that state authorities should award all aquaculture licenses, which would enable a more coordinated allocation process (today, the county municipality (Nw. fylkeskommune) is responsible for allocating licenses for other species than salmon, trout and rainbow trout, and licenses for land-based aquaculture).
- Continuation of the “traffic light system”, but with adjustments: The Committee notes that the current traffic light system contains several elements that work well and should be continued, and that the current environmental indicator (the impact of salmon lice from aquaculture on wild salmonids) when determining the environmental status of an area should be maintained. Furthermore, it is proposed that separate rules should be introduced for prudent operation and sustainable growth, which should be designed so that fish farmers effectively reduce emissions with significant environmental impact. The current system of reduction in production capacity in areas with unacceptable environmental impact (“red” areas) should be replaced by more targeted measures. This proposal must be seen in context of the Commission’s proposal to strengthen individual incentives and flexibility for the development and use of zero- and low-emission technology.
- Individual incentives to improve the environmental impact of aquaculture facilities need to be strengthened: The current traffic light system is deemed insufficient in promoting good environmental status at each facility. To address this, the Committee proposes several measures within the operational regulations, including a fee based on the number of salmon lice in the facility and other measures to reduce salmon lice. The Committee also recommends the implementation of an “environmental flexibility scheme” that would allow and incentivize fish farmers to increase production by using production technology with a lower environmental impact than traditional open net pens. It is noted that the introduction of such scheme requires further assessment, but the idea is a significant step forward in enabling sustainable growth in Norwegian aquaculture.
- Licenses for special purposes and licenses with special operating requirements should generally be avoided: It is emphasized that technology development in the aquaculture industry should take place without the granting of special licenses, contrary to what the trend has been historically. Requirements concerning biosafety should be set out in the relevant regulations for establishment and operation and not as conditions in the license itself. It has also been proposed that various special schemes for aquaculture licenses such as viewing, educational and fish park permits should be discontinued. Particularly with respect to viewing licenses, this has sparked debate among fish farmers and aquaculture organisations.
- All aquaculture licenses should be awarded through auction and be limited in maximum allowed biomass (MAB): The Committee suggests that new licenses and capacity increases for salmon, trout and rainbow trout should be awarded through auction – despite the introduction of a resource rent tax earlier this year. The Committee also proposes that the same approach should be applied to aquaculture licenses for other species such as cod, which may currently be awarded upon application and with no license fee. Additionally, the Committee recommends that MAB should be maintained as a quantity restriction at the license level (and not e.g. number of fish).
- Time limitations of certain types of aquaculture licenses: As part of their mandate, the Committee assessed the introduction of a time limitation for aquaculture licenses for salmon, trout and rainbow trout, which historically have been granted with no time limitation. Although the Committee is of the principal opinion that all licenses should be limited in time, the Committee nevertheless recommends against introducing such time limitation for licenses for salmon, trout and rainbow trout, referencing a mature value chain and resource rent tax. However, they do suggest that licenses for other species (including cod) should be limited in time.
- Several measures should be taken to improve biosafety: The Committee believes that “buffer zones” should be introduced to reduce the spread of infection between production areas. Increased coordination and cooperation between the fish farmers must be facilitated with the aim of improving biosecurity, the environment, and fish welfare.
The Report has been sent out for public consultation with a deadline of 2 January 2024.
The Committee does not propose any major changes to the The Norwegian Aquaculture Act. However, several of the proposals put forward by the Committee will require significant regulatory work by the authorities, with accompanying public consultation rounds.
If you have questions regarding the Report or the regulatory regime for aquaculture in Norway, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our aquaculture team.
 NOU 2023:23 Comprehensive Management of Aquaculture for Sustainable Value Creation