Norway's sea area covers in excess of two million square kilometres, more than six times the country's land area. There is clearly an ocean of opportunities here.
"The global fish-farming industry covers large onshore and offshore areas, but no one has really looked at the possible ways we can use the ocean. These areas are clearly not sufficiently utilized when we see the world's enormous need for proteins," says Lisa Terese de Jager, the Head of the Seafood Unit in DNV.
This international quality assurance and risk management company prepares analyses and reports regarding both the opportunities and challenges linked to the oceans. "We adopt an all-round approach to view the interactions between the various ocean-based industries when it comes to growth, the environment and ocean health," says Bente Pretlove, Programme Director, Ocean Space in DNV.
"DNV is renowned for its in-depth sector expertise focusing on technology, energy, safety and the environment," says Bente Pretlove. Photo: DNV
"We will publish a report on Aquaculture towards 2050 next year. DNV is renowned for its in-depth sector expertise focusing on technology, energy, safety and the environment," she says.
Frode Kamsvåg, Marine Structures Business Development Leader in DNV, says that knowledge of the sea is an important part of Norway's national level of expertise.
"There are few areas that Norway and Norwegians know as much about as the sea. Many of our major industries are linked to the sea and we have internationally recognized knowledge and experience. As a nation, we will build on this in the future," he says.
Kamsvåg points to several sea-based industries that to a large and small extent will be part of Norway's industrial future.
"We will continue to have shipping, oil & gas, offshore wind, fishery and aquaculture operations. The government intends the value produced by aquaculture to be five times the 2019 figure by 2050. We can't do that with only traditional fish farming in the fjords, because we don't have any more space there. Our future opportunities lie in the development of closed systems in the fjords, land-based structures or offshore operations," he says.
Of these, there is a great deal of interest in offshore operations, and there are already two such fish farms in Norway: Ocean Farm 1 and Havfarm 1. Ocean Farm 1 is 110 metres in diameter, large enough to hold an entire oil platform, while Havfarm 1 is 385 metres long and shaped like a ship.
There are around 10 ships in the world that are of this size. The certification of Ocean Farm 1 to a new DNV standard for offshore fish farming installations represents an important step towards the utilization of new opportunities in the oceans.
"These are fish farms that we call offshore installations today because they are located further from land than we have tried before and are more exposed to the sea and weather. But when we say offshore, we really mean even further out to sea and even bigger installations. There are still large unutilized ocean areas that are available and have plenty of access to fresh water all the time, as well as lots of space," says Kamsvåg.
HEAVY LOAD: It is not easy to transport a facility the size of Ocean Farm 1. Photo: SalMar
Multicultural offshore fish farming solutions
However, such installations are not far from becoming reality. Via the Ministry of Fisheries and Seafood, the Norwegian government has granted around 20 development permits for projects 'with considerable innovation and investment' that can help to resolve one or more of the environmental and area challenges facing the aquaculture industry. Several of these are related to offshore operations.
"Some concepts are in the design phase, while others are being built. Such fish farms must be able to cope with the same types of weather and waves as North Sea oil platforms, i.e. much more than any of the current fish farms," says Kamsvåg.
DNV has a lot of expertise in offshore operations, covering everything from certification, advisory services and decision bases for suppliers, operators and developers, as well as knowledge about the seabed and the natural environment surrounding installations.
"There are few areas that Norway and Norwegians know as much about as the sea," says Lisa Terese de Jager.
"Its growing core expertise in fish farming and forward-looking technology mean that Norway is potentially facing a new industrial era. The combination of all these professional environments creates magic. It's incredibly exciting when different professional disciplines challenge and draw on each other's experiences and find good solutions for future opportunities. Our job is to be ahead of developments and ensure the safe, secure production of seafood with all the risks under control," says de Jager.
Ocean Farm 1 is big enough to hold an entire oil platform. Photo: SalMar
The human factor
She is working to ensure that seafood production results in safe products that in the end are eaten by and improve the health of consumers. But before the fish ends up there, it has to go through a number of stages in its journey from a fertilized egg to a product on the dinner table. For most of its life, the fish lives in a fish farm, which can now be located far out to sea.
"Even with long experience of traditional fish farming, operators will face novel challenges when operating in new waters. The various professional environments have brought lots of experience and knowledge from the oil, gas and maritime industries with them to the development of offshore aquaculture. At the same time, it has been crucial to have domain knowledge about fish farming. For many of our colleagues, all these issues have created entirely new and unknown problems. Taking these into consideration is both exciting and challenging," says Kamsvåg.
"Many industries have to live alongside each other here. As soon as we take food production offshore, the consequences of any accident are greater. Let's say that a ship crashes into an offshore net pen so that two million fish are in danger of escaping or dying, instead of 200,000 fish in a fjord fish farm. Larger offshore fish farms have to deal with new requirements and risks that must be incorporated into updated procedures and processes," says de Jager.
There are several potential ways of manning offshore aquaculture facilities. While some people believe each unit must be independent, others are planning central units or feeding barges that control production in the same way as traditional facilities in Norway. All the various solutions have their own set of challenges.
DNV is carrying out pioneering work in a major and exciting sector.
"Irrespective of the technology chosen – whether traditional fish farming along the coast or on land, offshore or in closed facilities – or new technology that we don't yet know, the industry's production processes must be safe. The facilities must be built to operate in the long term and safeguard the fish's welfare, ensure high levels of confidence in food safety, protect employees' rights and avoid negative effects on the surroundings, climate and environment," says de Jager.
A typical net pen.
The future of aquaculture looks bright
Before going so far out to sea, we must learn a thing or two from the fish farming and "offshore" operations carried out so far.
"Ocean Farm 1 has now very successfully produced two rounds of salmon. The fish grows rapidly and has a low mortality rate and the quality of the fish is reported to be better than that of fish from more traditional net pens. We don't know what production stage or stages affect the result. Maybe the freshness of the water is important, or maybe it's the fact that the fish has more room to move. We don't know yet, but this is encouraging," says Kamsvåg.
It is thus reasonably certain that offshore aquaculture is one of the ways in which Norway as a nation is to live off the sea in future.
"I'm very confident that Norway is working well to build a new industry to take over from oil. I feel certain that we'll make some of our living from exporting the technology necessary to produce seafood offshore. Globally, Norway is a small producer in the aquaculture industry, but we're developing good, necessary technology with a major focus on safety that the rest of the world will also benefit greatly from," says de Jager.