A new report highlights the burgeoning interest and potential in offshore aquaculture as a new frontier for the Norwegian aquaculture industry, promising significant opportunities for employment and value creation.
The report argues that shifting salmon production offshore not only circumvents the biological pressure and spatial limitations of coastal fish farming, but also opens up new areas for sustainable growth.
This report identifies offshore's "significant potential" in increasing production capacity and enhancing the value chain within the marine sector.
However, the report warns, the success of offshore aquaculture hinges on overcoming substantial operational, technological, and regulatory challenges.
Innovation is key, especially in facility construction, certification, and logistics, to adapt to the harsher conditions and greater logistical demands of open sea farming.
Addressing environmental concerns and ensuring safe, satisfactory working conditions are also paramount for the industry's sustainability and social license to operate, the report suggests.
The report underscores Norway's leadership in developing a regulatory framework for offshore aquaculture, potentially setting a global standard.
Despite the inherent challenges, including higher investments and operational risks, developing offshore aquaculture could redefine Norway's competitive edge in the global aquaculture market, the authors suggest.
A scenario analysis within the report estimates that, in a year of significant activity, offshore aquaculture could generate a total value creation of 13.9 billion NOK (approximately USD 1.65 billion) and support around 7,400 jobs. This projection is based on the assumption that offshore production could reach one-third of the volume of current coastal aquaculture.
The report also highlights benefits for Norwegian suppliers to the aquaculture industry, noting "These actors are largely Norwegian, and for them, offshore aquaculture represents an opportunity for growth both domestically and internationally."
The analysis also calls for clear regulatory signals and supportive public framework conditions to reduce uncertainty and encourage investment in this innovative sector.
The authors suggest that a conducive tax framework, including the application of resource rent tax (the so-called "salmon tax") to offshore aquaculture, could further incentivize industry growth.
"For the actors to be willing to take that chance, the uncertainty surrounding the development of offshore aquaculture should be reduced as much as possible," the report states.
"It will be important for public authorities to give clear signals to the actors that if public requirements regarding safety, environmental sustainability, coexistence, etc., are satisfied, permission to expand production will be granted."
The Norwegian government has already designated 3 sea zones as testbeds for offshore aquaculture, Trænabanken, Frøyabanken North, and Southern Norskerenna, and last year the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries launched a public consultation on the country's next steps in offshore aquaculture.
A previous report on offshore aquaculture produced by SINTEF predicts that towards 2050, offshore aquaculture could generate an annual value creation of NOK 100 billion, including "many tens of thousands employed in the value chain and spin-off industries that include both districts and cities in Norway".