Norway's Per Sandberg provides post-Brexit insight for the seafood sector

Published on
February 7, 2017

Britain’s seafood industry will be radically transformed once it uncouples from the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), with much more emphasis placed on establishing management agreements and eradicating trade barriers, according to Per Sandberg, the Norwegian Minister of Fisheries.

Sandberg, who has now held the minister position for 30 months, was in London to discuss his country’s fisheries management with delegates at a new whitefish conference organized by the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC). In his speech, he shared tales of his experiences working alongside the CFP from the perspective of being a non-E.U. member state.

“Being outside the CFP has naturally had an effect on how fisheries management has developed in Norway," he said. “Although we have a good record of cooperation with the EU, being outside opens the door to more adaptive fisheries management. For instance, if we find that a measure is not having a desired effect, we can just change it without lengthy procedures. This makes our decision making process simpler and more transparent.”

Sandburg also addressed Brexit and how it will affect Norway.

“Brexit will have implications for our management cooperation in the North Sea; there is no point hiding the fact,” he said. “While we await the process between [the United Kingdom] and the EU, it is clear to me that in the next few years we will have to establish new agreements on how to cooperate in the future. This entails the joint stocks in the North Sea and pelagic stocks in Norwegian waters.”

However, Sandberg highlighted that “a very close relationship” in fisheries management already existed between the United Kingdom and Norway – a bond that is underpinned by “shared common views” of many sustainability issues. Furthermore, having just met with U.K. Fisheries Minister George Eustice, he said he “felt certain” that the already good relations would be furthered strengthened in the post-Brexit future.

“Being outside the E.U. also means that innovation and managing trade agreements with other countries is a very important part of our policy, because there is no use producing large quantities of fish if you don’t have markets to sell them to,” he said. “In Norway we make a joke that there is nothing in more of a hurry than a dead salmon. But this is no joking matter because consumers today and tomorrow demand high-quality fresh seafood. We are working constantly to access new markets and to get better agreements for our seafood exporters. We also work on a daily basis to ensure that our seafood sector does not meet unnecessary trade barriers.”

Sandberg also warned that the task of opening doors for exporters is being made all the more difficult by the shifts being made in trade agreements – from larger arrangements within the World Trade Organization (WTO) to more regionalized deals. Consequently, the competitive environment of the seafood industry is being increasingly challenged, he said.

As one of the world’s leading exporters of seafood and to protect a trade that has grown steadily over several years to reach NOK 91.6 billion (USD 11.1 billion, EUR 10.3 billion) in 2016, Norway is striving to establish new trade agreements, with processes underway with India, Vietnam and Malaysia. At the same time, restoring the seafood trade with China remains a high priority.

“Our seafood outlook is global, but I underline that our backyard remains by far our most important partner,” Sandberg said. “This is not only true for fisheries management but also for trade. The E.U., and the U.K. especially, are not only who we share fish stocks with, they are also the markets taking 60 percent of our seafood. We currently supply the E.U. with around 24 percent of its total seafood consumption, while the U.K. is our fourth-largest market and growing.”

In fact, with processing nations accounting for Norway’s top three markets, the United Kingdom is the Scandinavian country’s most important consumer market.

In regard to fisheries management, Sandberg told delegates that the Norwegian seafood industry would not be where it is today without long-term strategy and international cooperation on management issues, research and innovation.

“Seafood is a healthy, renewable resource with the potential to provide for a growing population while producing lower carbon emissions and requiring less energy use than land-based protein production. But it is important to realize that even though resources from the sea are renewable, they are not limitless. Managing the oceans requires commitment to long-term thinking.”

Sandberg also commended his country’s conservative approach to setting quotas.

“Norwegian resource management is founded on principles of long-term sustainable harvesting. It is based on the use of the best scientific advice available, while also taking into account the principles of a precautionary approach,” he said. ““We have been careful to adjust quotas so that we are not fishing at the edge of sustainability from year-to-year. The long-term yields will grow stronger as a consequence.”

Proof that the application of the appropriate management measures benefit fisheries resources is best evidenced by northeast cod, said Sandberg. Today, the stock is at a historically high level – estimated at 1.1 million metric tons (MT) for 2017, but it was in “a much different position” at the start of the last decade.

“The haddock stock in the Barents Sea is also in very good condition,” he said. “This proves that through applying appropriate management measures, a declining trend in the fish stocks can be reversed. It also underlines the importance of fisheries management cooperation.”

Because Norway shares more than 90 percent of its fish stocks with other countries, it takes part in many bilateral and multilateral fisheries agreements. These arrangements include the joint management of the cod and haddock stocks in the Barents Sea through the bilateral Joint Norwegian–Russian Fisheries Commission, which has been in place since the 1970s.

Sandberg said this agreement is the main reason for the positive development of the stocks over the past decade – not just through the united approach to combatting illegal fishing, but also through its effective joint management.

Similarly, in the North Sea, Norway jointly manages stocks with the EU. Currently, Norway is the only country surrounding the North Sea not to be a member of the union, but the United Kingdom’s departure will bring one more non-bloc party to the table, he said.

“I am certain that Brexit will not directly change seafood consumption in the U.K., but I know it will change our relations. We have work to do; we have to establish management regimes management of our fish stocks and to secure stable seafood supplies from Norway," Sandberg concluded.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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