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Minister of Fisheries Opens Aqua Nor 2007

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NORWAY - Minister of Fisheries - and Coastal Affairs, Helga Pedersen opened this year's Aqua Nor event, our reporter brings you her opening speech.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

thank you, Madame mayor for welcoming us to Trondheim and to chairman of the board Gullestad. Trondheim and Aqua Nor in August are a good combination. I am particularly happy to see the large international participation at this year's fair.

In addition to the fact that more than 400 exhibitors will be showing the latest technology and equipment, many important meetings and seminars will be held during the fair. It is important that people in the industry and researchers work closely together to solve the challenges facing the aquaculture industry.

In addition, Aqua Nor has become a meeting place for the fisheries authorities in countries with expanding aquaculture industries. At this year's fair we have the pleasure of welcoming representatives of the national and regional fisheries authorities in Canada, Spain, Scotland and India.

Fish represent an important source of protein for large segments of the world's population. As the population grows, nature sets limits on how much wild fish can be caught. This means that a steadily increasing part of the world's protein needs, must be met through aquaculture.

Farming of salmon and other species of fish is an efficient form of food production. With 1 kilo of feed it is possible to produce approximately 1 kilo of salmon, whereas it takes several times as much feed to produce the same amount of meat in agriculture. The health benefits of eating seafood are also well documented internationally and are helping to increase the demand for our products.

Norway is the world's second biggest exporter of seafood. The export value of farmed fish now exceeds the export value of the traditional fisheries. Norway's geography and climate, combined with knowledge and technology, have made it possible to develop a world class aquaculture industry and today Norway is in the forefront of farming both salmon and other marine species.

Norwegian companies and research institutions have acquired know-how that can also be used in other parts of the world. Although Aqua Nor functions in many ways as a showcase for Norway as a fish-farming nation, at the same time it is an excellent venue for international aquaculture.

I am convinced that visitors from other countries will benefit from their stay this year too. We are prepared to share the experiences we have acquired. In the same way, I am sure that Norwegian companies still have much to learn from other countries.

To ensure our continued pre-eminence in food and aquaculture research a new research group will be established in Norway beginning January 1st.

As most Norwegians in the room probably know, the group has been given the temporary name NOFIMA and is a merger of the fisheries research institute Fiskeriforskning, the Institute of Aquaculture Research, the Norwegian Food Research Institute and Norconserv.

NOFIMA will serve to boost know-how, thereby increasing competitiveness in the aquaculture, fisheries and food industries. With over 400 employees NOFIMA will offer research services in all parts of the value chain. NOFIMA will have fine prerequisites for becoming an interesting international partner.

The expansion of the aquaculture industry, both in Norway and internationally, places heavy demands on the actors. By using nature as the production premises we have a particular responsibility to ensure that operations are sustainable and do not harm the environment. For several years we have had problems with fish escaping from production facilities.

Fish escapes are the aquaculture industry's biggest environmental challenge. However, the escape figures for the first half of this year show a reduction, and I trust that this development will continue.

The authorities place great emphasis on escape prevention work and work closely with the industry to ensure an environmentally friendly aquaculture industry.

Fish welfare is another important subject, and I am pleased this is being focused on at the Aqua Nor Forum. I know that the industry and various research environments already work well together to ensure good living conditions for farmed fish. Fish welfare is closely linked with fish health, and there is increasing understanding that welfare measures can also be lucrative.

While environmental considerations and fish welfare are important per se, the future reputation of the aquaculture industry depends on how we meet these challenges. Overall, the aquaculture industry currently enjoys a good reputation. The industry must therefore be in the forefront of development and communicate well with the world.

One contribution by the authorities is the web portal, which was established by the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs last year. The site provides information - in English - about Norwegian management of seafood safety, the ocean environment, marine resources and aquaculture in a quick and efficient manner.

The environmental organisation Bellona is now launching its aquaculture website featuring information about the various environmental challenges facing Norwegian aquaculture industry. I view it as a constructive contribution in the effort to ensure a sustainable fish farming industry, and am pleased that more actors are engaged in the industry's challenges.

This can prevent a one-sided presentation of complex problems.

Market access is another challenge that the aquaculture industry has had to learn to live with. When I visited Hardanger a couple of weeks ago, I spoke with a fish farmer who had to sacrifice his summer holiday to fill out questionnaires from the European Commission in connection with the ongoing review of the anti-dumping measures against Norwegian salmon.

I reckon more people in this room have had a busy summer due to this. To do away with these measures and prevent similar ones in the future, the government has as is known submitted the dispute to the WTO. The WTO is expected to publish its report one month from now.

With respect to the import restrictions on salmon and trout to Russia, the situation has stabilised and is somewhat more predictable than before, but in the long term the goal is of course for the Russian authorities to fully accept the role of the Norwegian Food Safety Authority as inspection body.

The aquaculture industry is a relatively new industry in Norway. There are many challenges, but at the same time there are major opportunities connected with its continued development.

On this basis the government has worked out a strategy for continued competitiveness in the aquaculture industry. I will present this strategy at a special press meeting later today.

I look forward to some pleasant and beneficial days here in Trondheim. I am eager to visit exhibitors at the fair and talk to people in the industry and the aquaculture communities.

Tomorrow, the Minister of Children and Equality and I will receive a proposal for an action plan to increase the share of women in the marine sector. The fisheries and aquaculture industry is and will continue to be a major industry in coastal communities. The government's policy is to contribute to viable local communities offering safe and attractive workplaces for both men and women.

Looking out at the audience this morning, I must take the liberty to say that it is high time that you start diving for pearls - to tap into a virtually unused resource in the marine industries namely capable women!

Aqua Nor and Nor-Fishing have consolidated their respective positions as the most important fairs for aquaculture and fisheries and will be fairs that will have the full attention and support of the authorities in the future as well.

I hope and believe that you all will benefit from this year's fair and hereby declare Aqua Nor 2007 open!