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Planning process is key for aquacultural expansion

Rob Fletcher
Rob Fletcher
27 September 2017, at 9:40am

A project to assess the relative merits of coastal planning systems in different regions in Norway, with a particular focus on aquaculture, has been initiated by Nofima.

Norwegian municipalities have adopted a variety of approaches to coastal planning, with varying degrees of success, and Nofima’s scientists have now conducted in-depth studies of a selection of these plans – not least in a bid to help the evolution of the aquaculture industry.

“Geographical challenges, the industry’s local structure, competencies the municipality itself has for planning and not least, the resources available influence how successful the outcome is,” explains Patrick Berg Sørdahl, one of the scientists who has mapped the status of Norwegian coastal zone planning.

The Planning and Building Act provides some general requirements for how the municipalities should approach planning and what they must do, but the creation of a separate coastal zone plan is a voluntary matter. The coastal municipality of Gamvik in Finnmark, for example, has no coastal zone plan. However, municipalities that intend to allow fish farming within their coastal zone must have a plan allocating coastal space, either as a separate plan or as part of the municipality’s general spatial plan.

The municipalities will also be subject to regional guidelines for aquaculture. As of 1 October 2017, the plan is to divide the coast into 13 production zones. The purpose of this is to regulate the growth of the industry, based on the environmental conditions in the area. The regime will be based on a traffic-light regulation, and will function as follows: green for continued growth, yellow for stable production and red for a reduction in current production. By means of this regulation, the aquaculture industry will have clear indications of where there is scope for the industry to expand or where they may need to reduce activity – something that the municipalities must also take into account.

Flexibility is key

Due to continuously evolving nature of aquaculture technology, it is very important that the municipal planning processes are streamlined.

“What is not appropriate now may, in a couple of years, be very appropriate; so developing a planning system that is flexible enough to respond to the rapid development of the aquaculture industry is a great challenge,” says Sørdahl.

Fish farming is an important industry for many, and without a suitable planning system, there is a risk that potential establishments will be delayed and that development will be halted.

“Changing political policies are another challenge, and thus it is also important that the plans are finalised and adopted within a municipal period,” he points out.

Through inter-municipal collaboration, competency and capacity challenges in the planning process may more easily be handled and a more integrated coastal zone plan for a larger area can be achieved. But getting the plan approved still proves to be a bottleneck.

To avoid significant conflicts of interest, which delay the planning process, it is important to facilitate participation and collaboration. The report says, among other things, that “greater transparency in the planning process may contribute to greater involvement of the population and thus greater legitimacy for the completed plan”.