Norway to Strengthen Marine Conservation

OSLO, Norway, May 29, 2001 (ENS) - The Norwegian government has appointed an expert working group to draw up a first ever national marine conservation plan, the country's environment ministry announced today.

"This is a project for which the minister of fisheries and I have great expectations," environment minister Siri Bjerke said in a statement.

North Sea cod populations are in what the Fisheries Ministry calls a "crisis," and other fishes are also declining.

"Species diversity in marine ecosystems need protection to safeguard sustainable management of the valuable resources we find there."


Norwegian Environment Minister Siri Bjerk (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
The aim is to establish "a network of maritime regions [supporting] representative, unique, threatened and vulnerable" species in accordance with government white papers on coastal protection and biodiversity tabled in April, the environment ministery declared.

Bjerke said then that the government is making "an all-out effort" towards ensuring the protection and sustainable use of biological diversity.

Working to a final deadline of 2004, the new marine expert working group will propose areas for inclusion in the maritime network and suggest legislative options for and degrees of protection.

The government's proposals are to be advanced in the next annual white paper on the state of the national environment.

Often targeted by environmental groups for its whaling activities, Norway is now exhibiting concern for the conservation of marine life.

Bjerke expressed her fear that marine resources are being over exploited in a speech to a meeting of Environment Ministers of industrialized nations that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris two weeks ago.


Fish and marine mammals are disappearing from Norwegian waters. (Photo by Ny Alesund courtesy U.S. National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration)
"The world abounds with examples of how renewable resources are exploited in unsustainable ways that irreversibly transform them from renewables to non-renewables," she told her fellow environment ministers. "Forest resources, fish stocks, agricultural lands and rivers are over utilized in ways that lead to both environmental damage and human misery. With regard to the self-renewing genetic resources, we donít even know what are losing - or the potential importance for food security or ecosystem services of these losses," Bjerke said.

Bjerke highlighted the concept of "ecosystem integrity" as a good starting point for policy decisions. "The ability of ecosystems to adapt to changes is a prerequisite for the future, in particular in a world affected by climate change and a steady loss of biodiversity," she said.

Impacts on ecosystems from economic activities should be within acceptable limits, defined by the carrying capacity of different ecosystems, she said, and advanced the precautionary principle as an approach that should have an increasingly important role in future ecosystem management strategies.

Norway is already taking steps to protect its marine mammals and fish. In April, the Ministry of Fisheries turned down an application from the Institute of Marine Research to catch 60 White-Beaked and White-Sided dolphins for scientific purposes.

In its application the Institute of Marine Research estimated the population of dolphins in the Northeast Atlantic at 132,000.

Declaring a "cod crisis" as numbers of cod, the Norwegian staple fish, crash in the North Sea, Norway and the European Union in January agreed to close off a large area of the North Sea to fishing operations. From February 15 to April 30, the area was closed to all fisheries except for deep water fisheries and fishing for sandeel.

{ENDS Environment Daily contributed to this report. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London}