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Norway's fishing industry

By Bjarne Myrstad

For as far back as we can trace our history, people in this country have had fishing and hunting as their livelihood. Along the coast they have been the very basis of life and culture. The fishing industry remains one of our major export industries.

The main reason for this is that Norway controls some of the world's richest fishing grounds. The North Sea, Norway's coastal waters, the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea polar front are all very productive, and there are important fish breeding grounds just off the coast. Norway's coastal districts also lend themselves to aquaculture, an industry which has developed rapidly in recent years and grown into a valuable coastal industry.



Fisheries and aquaculture are the most important occupations along large stretches of our coast. Over 26,000 people are employed in the fishing fleet, and for 20,000 of them fishing is their sole or principal occupation. About 12,000 people are employed in the fish processing industry, and some 6,500 at fish farms.

Others who benefit from the spin-off from the fishing industry are shipbuilders, manufacturers of fishing gear, technological equipment, fish feeds and packaging, suppliers of transport, and institutions engaged in research and development.

Figures for 1991 show that over 2.1 million tons of fish were landed, with a first-hand value of NOK 5.7 billion. The aquaculture industry produced some 155,000 tons of salmon and 5,600 tons of trout with a first-hand value approaching NOK 4.5 billion. Exports of fish and fish products amounted to NOK 14.9 billion, 5 billion coming from aquaculture. About 90 per cent of Norwegian caught or farmed fish was exported.

Norway's total exports of goods amounted to a little over NOK 220 billion. Exports of oil and gas predominated, accounting for nearly 49 per cent, followed by metals with a good 10 per cent, machine tools with 7 per cent, and fish with a good 6.7 per cent.



After years of strict regulation and limited quotas, the fishing industry is now growing again. From 1991 to 1992 the value of fish exports rose by about 15 per cent. Several important fish stocks are increasing. Fish are nourishing and tasty to eat, and a renewable resource. Sustainable fish resource management will be of crucial importance. The aim is to build up the stocks so as to enable us to permit the highest quotas compatible with sustainable development. To succeed in this, Norway invests heavily in marine research, including multi-species research, from which we can learn about the interplay between the various species in the sea.

The farming of trout and salmon has predominated in aquaculture, but great effort is going into finding ways of producing other species profitably. In one major research program, a combination of traditional fishing and fish farming--sea ranching--has reached an experimental stage. The idea is to release quantities of fish fry into the sea under controlled conditions and let them feed and grow to harvestable size in the sea.



Norway's recorded catch of 1.75 million tons in 1990, or 1.8 per cent of the global total including freshwater fish, was the 13th largest in the world. There was a sharp increase in world fisheries after World War II, and fleets of large deep-sea vessels were built that could reach new fishing grounds and exploit resources that had not previously been utilised. Early in the 1970s, catches levelled off at about 60 million tons, and in a number of regions restrictions were imposed. From the mid-1970s, total catches began rising again, and by 1990 they had reached 97.2 million tons, including freshwater fish. According to calculations by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the long-term production potential of currently exploited fish species and marine organisms is about 80 million tons per year.

There are large fish resources which, for technical or financial reasons, have yet to be exploited to any significant extent, and it is impossible to predict with any certainty what their future importance will be, although there is reason to believe that some of them will be utilised. Nevertheless, the most significant addition to the supply of food from marine sources in the years ahead is likely to come from aquaculture and sea ranching.



In 1977, Norway established a 200 nautical mile economic zone off the mainland, and later the same year a 200-mile fishery protection zone was set up around Svalbard. In 1980, a 200-mile fishing zone around Jan Mayen followed. Between them, these measures gave Norway rights of disposal of large marine resources, and responsibility for regulating their use. Most commercial fish species are joint stocks which we manage together with other countries. Norway has fishery agreements with the EC, Russia, the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Sweden and Poland, and negotiates annually with these countries concerning the fixing of quotas. In the Norwegian delegations, the government, marine researchers and the fishing industry are represented.

The main object of these agreements is to arrive at satisfactory resource management, fix total quotas on scientific grounds, and promote a sensible balance of mutual fishing rights in each other's zones.

Fisheries projects figure prominently in the general support Norway grants to developing countries, and the fisheries sector has been growing in importance as a factor in Norway's bilateral aid programs. The fisheries authorities and the fishing industry participate in the FAO and grant funds to the World Food Program.

Where trade policy is concerned, the fisheries authorities cooperate with other countries, both in international organizations like the OECD and the GATT, and in relation to individual countries and such groups of countries as the EC, EFTA and the like.



Norway's fishing fleet varies from small open boats which can be worked single-handed to big trawlers and ring net boats, some equipped with machinery for processing catches on board. At the end of 1990, the fleet consisted of 17,392 vessels all told, 8,955 open boats and 8,437 with decks. Only a minority of the registered vessels fish all the year round. At the end of 1990, registered vessels over 13 metres in length numbered 1,678.

The cod fisheries, which include fishing for cod, saithe, haddock, torsk, ling, halibut and certain other species, are carried on using nets, long lines, hand lines, Danish seines, seines and trawls. Most pelagic species, such as herring, mackerel and capelin, are caught with ring nets. Fish for industrial use like Norway pout and sandeels are caught in trawls.

Despite the efforts of many years to regulate fishing and stock exploitation, the fleet's capacity is still too large for the available resources, and profitability is therefore generally speaking too low. Although a number of stocks are increasing, capacity will have to be reduced in the years ahead in both the inshore and the deep-sea fleet. There has nevertheless been a distinct improvement in the fishing fleet's economic position in 1991 and 1992. The first-hand value of the catch rose from nearly NOK 5 billion in 1990 to 5.7 billion in 1991. The upturn brought with it a significant rise in interest and instalment payments to the National Fishery Bank.

Oil activities created a new situation for the fishing industry. Important fishing grounds were taken over by the oil industry. The government is now seeking to provide conditions in which both industries can develop and operate side by side.



Norwegian aquaculture has expanded rapidly over the past ten or fifteen years: production has shot up from 7,500 tons in 1980 to 160,000 tons in 1991, when 155,000 tons was salmon and the remainder trout. Forecasts for the next few years suggest some decline in salmon output before growth recovers, while production of such other species as cod and char is in the pipeline. In the longer term, there can be little doubt about the significant contribution fish farming will make to our production of sea food.

Many municipalities are heavily dependent on the aquaculture industry for employment and settlement. At the beginning of 1992, up and down the entire coast from Hvaler to eastern Finnmark, some 250 farms were breeding fry and 650 were breeding for food. The industry has survived some difficult years, when the main problem was over-production. Better adjustment to markets will be an important challenge in the time ahead. Others include environmental and health problems, and questions relating to technical standards and operational guidelines for the installations.



Fish worth several billion NOK is sold annually on the domestic market, despite which the bulk of Norway's fish and fish products is exported: in 1991 Norway sold fish to 130 countries.

The EC is easily our most important market; in 1991 it took 60 per cent of our exports. Including the EFTA countries, the figure rises to 74 per cent. Our most important single export markets are Denmark, France and Sweden, and Japan is also a major customer.

Norway imported about NOK 1.6 billion worth of fish in 1991. Some of this, mainly cod, mackerel and shrimps, was landed by foreign vessels at Norwegian processing plants.

The rules governing fish exports were simplified in 1991, and in 1992 the Government submitted proposed amendments to legislation to the Storting, with the aim of improving the overall conditions for the fish industry. In the past twenty years, the number of fish processing enterprises has fallen from 860 to about 500. At the beginning of 1992, only 14 herring meal and herring oil plants were in operation. Considerable effort has gone into adjusting the fish industry's capacity to the available resources. Funds have been allocated in recent years towards writing off debts and strengthening equity in the industry and towards quality assurance and cooperative ventures. The processing industry, which takes its raw materials from both fishing and fish farming, is very important to the levels of activity and development in coastal districts.



Norwegian fisheries research is carried on on a large scale and in many areas, including aquaculture as well as traditional fishing. It has for many years been given priority in budgets. Among the areas studied are marine resources, the marine and coastal environment, fishing technology, fish processing, industrial development, foodstuffs and markets. Where fish farming is concerned, the key words include the hatching and feeding of fish fry, genetics and fish health. In both aquaculture and fisheries research, biotechnology is a target sector. Where sea ranching is concerned, substantial investments are being made in the large research program mentioned above.

Norwegian fishery research has had the Norwegian Council for Fishery Research as an umbrella organization. With effect from 1 January 1993, the Council is being merged with the other research councils in the Research Council of Norway, and fishery research will be the responsibility of one of the Council's sector boards. The Research Council and the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen advise the Ministry on research questions, as does the Norwegian Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Tromsø.

The main responsibilities of the Institute of Marine Research include studies and monitoring of fish stocks and marine and coastal environments, and work on marine fish farming and sea ranching. The Institute maintains close contacts with scientists in other countries. Much international cooperation takes place through the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Research into resources is important at the Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture, and assignments are shared between it and the Institute of Marine Research. The Institute of Nutrition in Bergen, run by the Directorate of Fisheries, advises the authorities and engages in research on nutritional questions. Many other scientific institutions carry on research relating to fisheries and fish farming, including the Universities of Tromsø, Trondheim, Bergen and Oslo and various colleges.

Many upper secondary schools along the coast offer instruction in subjects relating to the various branches of the fishing, fish farming and fish processing industries. Relevant higher education is provided at regional colleges, maritime colleges and universities. Degrees can be taken at the Norwegian College of Fishery Science or at the four universities. The School of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen and the Institute of Technology at the University of Trondheim also offer courses of study in fishery-related subjects.



Surveillance and control of compliance with laws and regulations have high priority. Norway attaches great importance to arrangements, in cooperation with other countries, for ensuring properly conducted fisheries in northern and North Sea waters.

The Norwegian Coast Guard, under the Ministry of Defence, monitors the activities of Norwegian and foreign fishing vessels in Norwegian waters; in addition, a number of local surveillance schemes have been set up under the Directorate of Fisheries. The Coastal Fishery Surveillance Services for the Skagerrak and west coasts are administered by Chief Supervisors in cooperation with the Police.

Important functions in connection with regulation and surveillance are entrusted to the Quality Control Service of the Directorate of Fisheries. A great deal has been done in recent years to coordinate control work and make it more efficient.

The fisheries authorities wish to ensure that Norwegian fish products on the world market are of the highest quality. The Quality Control Service carries out inspections and laboratory examinations.

The fisheries authorities see to it that the conditions for permission to farm fish and molluscs are observed. For this purpose they cooperate with various central and local government agencies and with the Police.

The Ministry of Fisheries is responsible for supervising compliance with current regulations governing sales and exports.


The principal objective of fisheries policy is the preservation of stocks based on the principle of sustainable and profitable development. Protection of the marine enviroment is a guideline for fisheries policy and for practically every activity connected with fishing, hunting and fish farming. We should harvest nature's surpluses, not only of fish but also of marine mammals like seals and whales. It is Norway's view that all species of fish and marine animals can be harvested within biologically established limits. Supervision of fishing and hunting is being intensified.

The increased knowledge and enhanced skills obtained through research and development are important for resource management according to the principle of sustainable development. That is one reason for focussing on multi-species research and on the development of selective fishing gear which permits the escape of small fish. Great importance is likewise attached to knowledge of the marine environment and climate and the prevention of pollution.

Norway's annual negotiations with other countries for the purpose of fixing quotas are all based on recommendations from the ICES. One object of fishery policy is to keep the level of resource utilisation stable from year to year and as high as stock preservation permits. This is important if Norway is to maintain a profitable and viable fishing industry capable of maintaining permanent settlement patterns and creating secure workplaces in coastal regions.

Norwegian authorities are continuing their efforts to adjust the capacity of the fishing fleet to the resources available, and one main target of structural and regulation policy is to help to make the fishing fleet self-financing. The Government presented a Report to the Storting on this in the summer of 1992.

Key aims of policy on aquaculture include breeding new species, a better balance between production and markets, and solutions to fish health and environmental problems.

Conditions are being provided which will ensure that the fish processing industry receives steadier supplies of raw materials from both Norwegian and foreign vessels, and that product development and competitiveness in the industry will improve, so as to increase its value added and the value of exports.

Cooperation between the authorities, fishermen, fish farmers, the processing industry and exporters is continually improving, with a view among other things to satisfying market demands for steady supplies and high quality, and to getting more money out of every kilo of fish.

Quality is the catchword. The whole industry is dependent on our ability to provide individual consumers--in Norway and globally--with food that is so nourishing and attractive that they will keep coming back for more.

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