Norway Norway Norway Norway

Fisheries Norway

The importance of fisheries for Norway

The fishing and aquaculture industryis one of Norway’s foremost export industries and is vital for settlement and activities along the Norwegian coast. … The Norwegian aquaculture in­dustry is a modern, internationally competitive indus­try that produces high quality food in an efficient man­ner. In terms of value, aquaculture products account for almost half of the total Norwegian fish export (1).

Vulnerabilities Norway

A likely consequence of warmer waters is a change in the composition and abundance of species in different sea areas. In some areas the commercial value may be reduced, while in other areas it might in­crease. It is also likely that changes in the distribution areas for some species may have impact on fish quotas in the economic zones of some countries (1).

Generally, it is to be expected that the habitat extents of fish species will move northward, and with an ice-free Arctic basin during summer fishing operations may be extended into new areas (1).

The disease status of farmed fish can be negatively affected by climate change. Increased mean sea tem­perature and larger temperature variations can lead to increased growth and survival of pathogenic bacteria, viruses and parasites. Changes in temperature and pre­cipitation patterns may alter coastal currents, affecting the dispersal pattern of these pathogens (1).

A higher frequency of extreme weather conditions may also in­crease the risk of farmed fish escaping from nets. This may affect the genetic interaction between farmed fish and wild stocks (1).

Climate change may force the farming industry to re­locate fish farms. Atlantic salmon and cod in Northern Norway could benefit from enhanced growth rates due to an increase in the mean sea temperature, while more frequent extreme summer temperatures could lead to poorer health and welfare for these species fur­ther south. Instead, new species, such as sea bass and turbot, may possibly be farmed in these areas (1).

A moderate warming of mean ocean temperatures is likely to “improve conditions for some of the most important commercial fish stocks…due to enhanced levels of primary and secondary production resulting from reduced sea-ice cover” (2). Changes in ocean temperatures are also expected to increase the extent of habitat for certain fish species, including cod and herring (2). … However, marine biologists point out that warming of the Arctic sea waters may not necessarily lead to an increase in the northern extent of commercially important northern fish stocks, since biophysical and human management interactions and feedbacks in Arctic marine ecosystems are complex, and still relatively difficult to project over long time periods (3).

Many species of plankton and fish have shifted their distribution northward and sub‑tropical species are occurring with increasing frequency in European waters, changing the composition of local and regional marine ecosystems in a major way (4). Recent studies have shown that the northward movement of southerly species has caused species richness in the North Sea to increase (5). This may have negative ecological and socio‑economic effects: the three large species that have decreased their range the most in the North Sea are all commercially relevant, while only one of the five most increasing species and less than half of the all the species that expanded their range are of commercial value. A climate change-induced shift from large to smaller species is thus likely to reduce the value of North Sea fisheries (5).

During the past 40 years there has been a northerly movement of warmer‑water plankton by 10° latitude (1100 km) in the north‑east Atlantic and a similar retreat of colder‑water plankton to the north. This northerly movement has continued over the past few years and appears to have accelerated since 2000. Sole and other warm‑water species have become relatively more abundant in northerly areas, while plaice and other cold‑water species have become rare in southerly areas (8). Climate is only one of many factors which affect distribution and abundance, but the consistency of the response of this particular index to temperature, both within particular areas (i.e. time trend) and across all areas (i.e. geographic trend) suggest that the causal relationship is quite strong. Scenario projections of future movements of marine species have not yet been made (6).

The kinds of fish which are available for human consumption are not necessarily affected by the distribution changes shown above, because fish are often transported long distances from where they are caught to where they are marketed, but the prices of fish may change if certain species that are common today become less common. People eating locally caught fish may notice changes in the species they catch or buy. Changes in distribution may affect the management of fisheries. Fisheries regulations in the EU include allocations of quotas based on historic catch patterns, and these may need to be revised (6). In general it is not possible to predict whether northward shifts in distribution will have a positive or a negative effect on total fisheries production (7).

Vulnerabilities - Migrating fish and political conflict 

The impacts of climate change can lead to conflict, but conflict not necessarily leads to violence. This is exemplified with the so-called ‘’mackerel case’’. Like many fish species mackerel is migrating into northern Atlantic waters, possibly as a response to ocean warming. This led to a rapid change in the distribution of the northeast Atlantic mackerel stock after 2007. This mackerel became more abundant in northern Atlantic waters, which in turn triggered an interstate conflict over the size and allocation of fishing quotas between the European Union (EU), Norway, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands (10).

Situation before the mackerel shift

When mackerel stocks frequent the national waters of a nation, defined as a 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), that nation is considered a “Coastal State” for that stock and has the right to harvest it in their EEZ. As so-called Coastal States, these countries are responsible for management of the stock. They negotiate the division of fishing resources (10).

Before the mackerel shift in 2007 the “main players” in the Coastal State meetings were the EU and Norway. These countries had been dealing with the sharing of the stock since 1999, had the biggest mackerel fishing fleet, and worked together on the scientific surveys that are used to advise the States on quota allocations. The Faroe Islands only played a minor role in the quota negotiations, and Iceland was not considered as a Coastal State (10).

The start of the conflict

The interstate conflict started after the mackerel moved northwards. The area of migration has progressively expanded as far as Icelandic and south Greenlandic waters in the west, and as far north as Spitzbergen (11), may be due to changes in food availability, increased water temperature, and/or increased stock size. Due to this change in distribution, Icelandic and Faroe fishers got better access to the stock and therefore wanted to secure their fishing rights. The Faroe Islands wanted to enlarge their mackerel quota, while Iceland wanted to become an accepted Coastal State member to secure their quota share (10).

The conflict between the EU/Norway and the Faroe Island dissolved in 2014 with a new management agreement, which allocated a substantially larger mackerel quota to the Faroe Islands (12). The conflict with Iceland still persisted in 2017.

So far, even though Iceland has become a Coastal State, it has not been involved in the Coastal States’ agreements on the total allowable catch (TAC) and quota allocations per country. The main reason for this failure is that a social and political dispute between the Coastal States developed which persists to this day. The conflict prevents collaboration with Iceland in a joint management plan and subsequently sustainable management of the stock. As a result, the Coastal States overfished the mackerel stock increasingly from 2007 onwards (10).

A permanent shift, or not?

The reasons behind the mackerel shift are not quite clear. It has been argued that this allows countries to select the scientific explanation that best serves their interests (13). Accepting that the shift is caused by climate change would confirm the permanence of the shift. This explanation is advantageous for Iceland and the Faroe Islands, but not for the EU and Norway because they would have to accept a (semi)permanent decline in their share of the TAC. Consequently, the latter countries prefer to consider the shift as temporary and the result of ‘normal’ environmental fluctuations.

According to the authors of this study the mackerel dispute is currently experiencing a (re)balancing of power between the various Coastal States due to their growing interdependence. Iceland and the Faroe Islands probably will claim larger shares as the mackerel shift continues, and new countries (like Greenland) may also demand access (10).

An example of future conflicts

The mackerel case is an empirical example of a process of global environmental change that will manifest itself more pronounced and widely in the decades to come. Marine scientists anticipate large-scale changes in distribution and productivity of marine organisms under the influence of ocean warming (14), which are expected to increase the potential for international conflict over marine resources, impeding effective and sustainable marine governance (15). 

Adaptation strategies

In addition to setting maximum limits on the fish catch, some regulation of the fishing technology used, such as net design, remains indispensable for sustainable fishery in Norway. Also indispensable is effective cooperation between the different countries fishing the same stocks; such cooperation needs to cover both agreeing the policy setting, such as maximum catches, and effective enforcement (9).

Cooperation seems to be easier when few countries are involved than when there are many: the two key stocks that are shared largely between Norway and Russia, with other countries relatively insignificant, have recovered quite strongly over the last decade; but those in the North Sea, shared more equally with a number of countries (the European Union has a common fisheries policy but implementation is delegated to individual countries), are generally still struggling. But Norway too sometimes subordinates the interests of longer-term sustainability to the interests of coastal communities, such as in the case of the coastal cod fishery. Extending and widening the use of a discard ban by the European Union, as experimented with in the North Sea, could be a fruitful area for discussion between Norway and its European partners (9).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Norway.

  1. Ministry of the Environment of Norway (2009)
  2. Vilhjálmsson et al. (2005), in: West and Hovelsrud (2008)
  3. West and Hovelsrud (2008)
  4. Brander et al. (2003); Beare et al. (2004); Beare et al. (2005); Perry et al. (2005); Stebbing et al. (2002), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  5. Hiddink and Hofstede (2008), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  6. EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  7. Brander (2007), in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  8. Brander et al., 2003, in: EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
  9. O'Brien (2010)
  10. Spijkers and Boonstra (2017)
  11. ICES Advisory Committee (2013); Nøttestad et al. (2014a), both in: Spijkers and Boonstra (2017)
  12. Government of the Faroe Islands (2014); Droesbeke (2015), both in: Spijkers and Boonstra (2017)
  13. Gänsbauer et al. (2016), in: Spijkers and Boonstra (2017)
  14. Cheung et al. (2010); Gattuso et al. (2015), both in: Spijkers and Boonstra (2017)
  15. Miller (2000), in: Spijkers and Boonstra (2017)