The regulations for aquaculture at sea - why so bureaucratic?

On 7 November 2022, a new salmon allocation regulation was issued. The new regulation is primarily given to include the regulations for aquaculture at sea in the regulations. However, the entire regulation has been reissued and all provisions have been given new section numbers. There are also some changes in provisions other than those dealing with aquaculture at sea. Those who, for example, apply for new site approvals or new special permits should check the regulations to see if there are any changes that could have an impact on the applications, and to ensure that the rule references are correct.

The regulations for aquaculture at sea have previously been subject to consultation, and it was then pointed out, among other things, that the regulations seem unnecessarily complicated and that they require very extensive case management resources to be used to process the individual application. Such objections do not seem to have been given weight when the regulations were drawn up, and it is consequently a very long and uncertain bureaucratic path that is described for those who wish to establish aquaculture facilities at sea.

The first step for the establishment is the process for area announcement. The determination of areas that are relevant for offshore aquaculture takes place in three steps. First, the Ministry makes a decision that areas are to be assessed for impact, as has recently happened for three areas. A program for the impact assessment is then drawn up, which is first submitted for public consultation and then determined by the Ministry. The impact assessment is then carried out. The regulations do not contain any requirement that the impact assessment be sent for consultation, but based on the results of the impact assessment, the Ministry makes a decision whether the area should be announced.

The second step for establishment is the announcement process. The area in question must be announced with the maximum permitted biomass in a separate allocation regulation. This is where the private aquaculture companies can apply for a permit. The winner of the competition receives an advance commitment. This advance commitment does not give the right to establish aquaculture. The party who is awarded the advance commitment only gets an exclusive right to apply to establish aquaculture in the area in question for a period of 2 years. If an application for the allocation and clearance of a location is not sent within 2 years, the advance commitment is lost. The Directorate of Fisheries can choose to grant an extension.

The third step is the aquaculture company’s application for allocation and clearance of location. The rules for allocation and clearance of locality are very comprehensive. A project-specific impact assessment must first be carried out according to a program established by the Directorate of Fisheries, following input from other authorities. The impact assessment is paid for by the aquaculture company. Once the impact assessment has been prepared, an application for permits can be submitted.

A locality for aquaculture at sea needs a total of 5 permits, according to the Food Act, the Pollution Act, the Harbour Act, the Animal Welfare Act and the Aquaculture Act. At this point, the regulations are modelled on the very cumbersome system that currently applies to the approval of new locations in the production areas along the coast. It is difficult to understand that such a system with several separate permits is appropriate for aquaculture at sea. The system means that the individual authority will have the right of veto if a disagreement arises between the authorities. The regulations contain a rule on coordination meetings, but such meetings do not have any decision-making authority.

It is also important to note that the salmon allocation regulations are only given on the basis of the Aquaculture Act. The other authorities that must grant permission will be free to provide their own rules on case processing and conditions that must be met for permission to be granted under their legislation.

The Norwegian authorities want the industry community to invest in and develop an industry with offshore aquaculture. Against this background, it seems poorly thought out with a set of regulations that provide such poor predictability for those who wish to establish themselves. In my opinion, the regulations should have been designed so that the party who receives advance commitment for the establishment of aquaculture at sea is sure that they can establish themselves if they invest in a facility that meets all technical safety requirements. They should not risk being refused, for example, because the Norwegian Environment Agency or the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, after a review of the specific impact assessment, disagrees with the Directorate of Fisheries that the sea area in question can be used for aquaculture.

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