While a precautionary approach to fisheries management has been pursued in Norway since the late 1990s, efforts to implement an ecosystem approach and integrated oceans management are more recent.
Based on scientific advice
The application of the precautionary approach is based on scientific advice on the impacts of different catch levels from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, and the implementation of catch levels in line with such advice in bilateral negotiations and national decision-making.
Critical issues of risk
The development and effective implementation of long-term management plans, as adopted for the Barents Sea and the North Sea, are critical in that regard. The precautionary approach is an ongoing process, and its introduction in practical fisheries management in recent years has brought experiences and lessons that scientists and administrators are now seeking to incorporate in the future development of the approach. One critical issue in that regard is how threshold levels for spawning stock sizes and rates of decline (fish mortality) should be set. Fundamentally, these are issues that concern risk, and are just as much issues concerning values and societal choice as they are matters of science. It is therefore important to strike the right balance between the need to minimize risk for stock depletion on the one hand, and the risk of depriving fishing communities of vital fishing opportunities on the other.
The implementation of an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management requires that the knowledge on which regulations are based is attuned to the impacts of fisheries on other biotic and abiotic parts of the ecosystem, as well as the impacts of e.g. climate change and predation from marine mammals on fish stocks.
Three ecosystem programmes
An important development to that end was the reorganization of the Institute of Marine Research, which now operates on the basis of three ecosystem programmes (The Barents Sea, The Norwegian Sea, and the North Sea), drawing on the work of 19 specialized research groups. In terms of regulatory measures, the flexible areas that can be opened and closed according to conservation needs are likely to remain a critical feature of a regulatory system based on an ecosystems perspective. In addition, a system of coastal marine protected areas is being developed, aimed at protecting unique natural features along the 22,000-km Norwegian coastline. A long-standing practice of taking account of the cod’s consumption of capelin when setting quotas for the capelin fishery is also likely to be an important feature of an ecosystem-based regulatory regime.
Harvesting of marine mammals
Similar concerns will have to be extended to a number of other species relationships, for example by continuing the harvesting of marine mammals that prey on commercial fish species. Also the impact of fishing on habitat and abiotic features of ecosystems will have to be actively addressed. Norway has also advocated the prohibition of bottom trawling in vulnerable areas in the high seas, and has established protected areas in vulnerable ecosystems in its own waters where fishing is limited or prohibited.
Petroleum activities – important driving force
The concept of integrated oceans management was introduced in a report to the Norwegian Parliament in 2002, which signalled the need to develop a more comprehensive oceans policy to guide the development of various uses of the oceans. An important driving force in this regard was the development of petroleum activities in the north in areas near major fishing grounds. The report, which was endorsed by The Norwegian Parliament, established a process to develop comprehensive management plans for the Norwegian sea areas. In 2006 an integrated management plan for the Norwegian section of the Barents Sea and the area off the Lofoten Islands were presented to parliament. The plan provides an inventory of the various uses of the waters in the area including fisheries, aquaculture, transportation, petroleum-related activity and an assesment of the qualities of the natural environment. This provides the basis for decision-making on major initiatives activities in the area, such as the opening of an area for drilling for petroleum. The managenment plan was revised in 2011.In 2009 a management plan for the Norwegian Sea was established and a plan for the Norwegian part of North Sea and the Skagerrak is due in 2013