Norwegian Fishermen’s Association, Norway

Fishing and oil and gas exploration in the Nordic seas. Our experience during forty years of co-existence

Rights and responsibilities

The Fishing Industries and the Oil and Gas Industries working in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea are given special rights from our governments. With such rights come responsibilities. Among those responsibilities is not to create unnecessary obstacles for other legitimate interests operating in the same area. With other words; our industries have to co-operate to secure an optimal utilisation of the food and energy resources in Norwegian and

Russian waters.
I want to stress that Norwegian fishermen understand and accept the importance of utilising the energy reserves under the sea bed. But we are also worried about the consequences of possible spills from oil and gas exploration. We hope you understand this.

Recent lessons

During this year we have experienced what happens when people believe the world confronts a situation with lack of food and energy. Many poor countries saw the price of basic foodstuff multiply. The price of oil reached 150 US dollar a barrel. Increasing oil prices was one of the reasons for the increase in food prices. The reason was not a critical lack of food or energy on the world market, but that some believed this was the situation. Others were quick to utilise the fear. We had a taste of what could happen if or when we really experience lack of food or energy on a world wide scale.

An abundant ocean

What we experienced in 2008 should not be forgotten when discussing co-operation between the fishing industry and the petroleum industry. Fishing is about providing food for the people of the world. Norway and Russia are so luckily situated that we are sharing and harvesting from some of the richest seas in the world regarding marine organisms. We are talking are the whole food chain from plant plankton to sea mammals. The Norwegian and the Barents Seas are truly Sarepta’s jars that we who are living along those seas can harvest from. Because of this, we have a special responsibility to care for the oceans well being, and to utilise the resources in a sustainable way. Something our fishing industries always have done, and will continue to do.

Riches above and below the sea bed

In addition to, or maybe because of, the fact that we are living along parts of the world’s oceans that could best be described as overflowing with biological life, there are also rich sources of energy below the sea bed. Billions upon billions of tons of biological material have during millions of years settled on the bottom of the oceans. Being trapped under sediments, and transformed through geological processes within the earth, today we recover the remains as oil and gas. Both our industries are harvesting the biological riches of the oceans. The petroleum industry harvests the riches from our prehistory, our fishermen the riches of today.

Our experience with co-existence

Through 40 years of co-existence, the fishing industry and the petroleum industry in Norway have developed a mutual respect and understanding for each others activities. Even if the oil and gas industry is by far the most important part of the Norwegian economy, the co-operation with the fishing industry has been good. The government has prepared the ground, and there has been continuous communication both between the industry organisations, between the industry organisations and the government bodies, as well as between the different branches and levels of public administration. Where there have been insecurity about the consequences of petroleum exploration at sea, research have been initiated. Not every question has been satisfactorily answered yet. Those we are still working on. New knowledge about negative effects are taken into account, and new methods and new equipment is developed in order to make offshore oil and gas exploration as environmentally friendly as possible at any given moment.

New areas, new challenges

As the offshore activities move north along the continental shelf off Norway, new challenges come up. Partly because the continental shelf some places is very narrow and steep, which means the fishermen have no alternative areas to fish. Partly because the activities move into spawning areas for some of the most important fish species in the North Atlantic, like Norwegian Spring Spawning Herring and Norwegian Arctic Cod. As both the Norwegian Coastal Current and the Gulf Stream move north along the coast of Norway, this is also the route taken by fish eggs and larvae on their way to the Barents Sea. While the spawning areas are the maternity ward, the continental shelf the road, the Barents Sea is kindergarten, school and old age home for our most important fish species. The huge, annual spawning migrations from the Barents and the Norwegian Seas towards the Norwegian coast, and back again, are the basis for important, human activity. Below an often grey and agitated sea surface, every winter and spring the sea literally boils with life, and processes utilising the oceans enormous capacity for biological production takes place. Our common responsibility is to make sure those processes continues to take place.

Norway, a large food exporting nation

The spawning migrations are the precondition for the big seasonal fisheries off Norway. They are also the reason why our fishermen are able to make a livelihood in the Russian and the Norwegian sectors in the Barents Sea. The sex orgies taking place in the chilly waters off Norway’s coastal mountains, we want to protect. Without those orgies, there will be no fish, and no food for the world’s populations. Our fisheries, together with fish farming, which also needs fishermen to bring ashore feed for their pens, makes Norway one of the great food exporting nations. For the people of Russia, our common seas is an important source of delicious and nutritious nourishment. Also people working in the petroleum industry appreciate first class sea food.

Our present head ache

Since the peak seems to have been reached regarding oil production in Norwegian waters, and the same could be the case in other parts of the world, Norwegian fishermen have been experiencing increasing intrusion of seismic vessels on their fishing grounds. The data obtained by those vessels, are increasing in value, and seismic is a growing business in Norway as well as in other countries. Norwegian fishermen are demanding better control with this activity, not least where our continental shelf is narrowest, on the most important spawning areas, and not least where we know there are concentrations of fish larvae on their way to the Barents Sea. We understand the petroleum industry’s need for seismic data, but like other areas where there could be conflict between legitimate interests, the operations of seismic vessels have to take place based on an understanding with those other interests.

Seismic shooting should only take place at times and within areas when it will not harm living organisms, or when it is not harming other activities in a serious way. When and where to shoot seismic are decisions that must be made in agreement with other users of the sea. Norwegian and Russian fishermen expects that our governments and our petroleum industries will continue the positive practice and the co-operation we have had in order to solve the problems we are presently experiencing with the seismic research.



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