Regulations governing the Norwegian aquaculture industry are set for a "comprehensive" rethink, if recommendations from the government-appointed Aquaculture Committee are put into practice.
The committee, which was tasked with assessing the design of a comprehensive permit system for Norwegian aquaculture, has presented a 193-page report surveying the current state of play, and detailing several reforms.
The most significant of the recommendations, released on 28 September, would be to put a halt to reductions for licences in "red" salmon farming zones under the country's current "traffic light" system for licence allocations.
The report focuses on four key issues affecting the future of the Norwegian aquaculture industry: biosafety (including sea lice and disease outbreaks), spatial planning and management, environmental impact, and fish welfare.
"The committee recommends that a new, comprehensive management system for aquaculture provides stronger incentives for sustainable choices that take care of biosafety and the environment. This will also enable growth in the aquaculture industry in the future," said committee leader Linda Nøstbakken.
"The regulation of aquaculture should, to a greater extent than today, be directly aimed at the aquaculture industry's actual impact on the environment. This is more effective than today's indirect regulation through permits," said Nøstbakken.
Norway brought its "traffic light" system into operation in 2017 to regulate production capacity of Atlantic salmon. The system divides the Norwegian coast into 13 zones where production is regulated according to a set of environmental indicators. The ratings are mainly based on sea lice infestation levels, and are updated on an annual basis.
Under the current system, in "red" zones, salmon production must be reduced, meaning some permits will not be renewed. "Yellow" zones indicate production should remain unchanged, which means no new permits can be issued. In "green" zones, there is space for more production, meaning new farming licences are available.
The Aquaculture Committee report released this week proposes making some changes to this system. While it would maintain the 13 aquaculture zones as they stand, the committee said that "fire breaks" should be imposed between zones to stop the spread of disease.
In the so-called "fire breaks" between zones, no fish farming would be allowed, to prevent the spread of lice and infections between the different areas. However, the committee notes, aquaculture facilities that do not impact biosafety could still be located between farming zones.
In another move to combat the problem of salmon lice, the committee proposes to require salmon farmers to take action on the parasites at a lower limit of infection. Those who exceed the limit would be subject to a tax on lice.
However, the committee proposes removing the need for farmers to reduce production when sea lice are abundant – one of the measures in the current traffic light system.
In general, the report also calls for improved spatial planning for aquaculture, with Norwegian State authorities to take on greater responsibility in spatial planning of sea production areas.
The committee's report and recommendations will now be sent out for consultation, with responses due by January 2024.
"The committee has carried out a thorough review of the permit system in the farming industry, and their proposals will be important for the government's further work to create growth in a predictable, controlled and sustainable way. The investigation will now be sent for consultation, and together with input from the consultation round, I will assess the proposals in more detail," said Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bjørnar Skjæran.
The committee, chaired by Statistics Norway Research Director Linda Nostbakken, included Sintef Ocean research director Hans V. Bjelland, in addition to university researchers, local authority specialists and aquaculture industry representatives.
The full report (in Norwegian) is available here: NOU – Comprehensive management of aquaculture for sustainable value creation