Norway launches national r&d marine strategy

Last year the Norwegian Government launched Hav 21, a project to develop the country’s first comprehensive national research and development strategy in marine knowledge and management of its valuable marine resources and vast ocean areas.

The Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs announced the strategy in October 2011. By November, it had appointed a strategy committee, chaired by Liv Monica Stubholt, CEO at Aker Clean Carbon, comprising both trade and industry representatives, the public administration and the knowledge community.

The committee’s main task will be to collect input from the industry, the research community and the authorities on four main themes – management, aquaculture (including marine bio-technology and production of bio mass), fisheries, and food (including bio-based industries and bio-prospecting) – for a strategic report that will form the basis for recommendations to the government’s seafood White Paper due in 2013, Norway’s engagement in international research cooperation, and other strategic work.

The driver for creating a new national marine strategy is the importance of the marine sector and other recently formed national research initiatives, according to Lars Horn, HAV 21 project manager at the Research Council. In the past couple of years, the government has launched Klima 21 focusing on climate, Energi 21 for the energy sector, and most recently Maritime 21, an industry driven project for the shipping industry.

“Recently there has been focus on climate and energy,” said Horn. “Now is the time to open people’s eyes to the importance of the oceans. If you look at the importance of the oceans over the past 1,000 years back, it’s been important to the development of Norwegian society, culture and business… from fishing shipping, and aquaculture, to the development of oil and gas in Norwegian waters.”

 

Spending Wisely

The overall goal of HAV 21 is to get a more broad based and common strategy for marine research and development in these four earmarked areas. It will also point out needs for new knowledge and technology development and help create a comprehensive mindset on marine knowledge and technology efforts by bringing the public authorities, industry and research institutions closer together.

“There have been a number of (marine) strategies before, but this is more research specific and looks at the broader strokes in research and development in order to support good management and business,” said Horn. “We have to do something systematic, not just bits and pieces.”

One of the key things the HAV 21 strategy will critically examine is how Norway currently invests in marine research. The country spent about NOK 2.8 billion in 2009, according to the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU). This represents a near trebling over the last decade and 7% of Norway’s total research spending in 2009. Almost half of the marine research money (NOK 1.3 billion) in 2009 was spent on aquaculture.

A more comprehensive approach to marine R&D spending would help Norway prioritize spending efforts in the right directions at home and help it select the best strategies in international cooperation, such as JPI Oceans (Joint Programming Initiative for Healthy and Productive Seas and Oceans), that best further Norway’s priority marine R&D areas. Given the expensive R&D costs in this sector, there could be major savings from combining resources on infrastructure such as vessels and satellites.

“The main question is whether we are using these allocations to our best advantage,” said Lisbeth Berg-Hansen, Norway’s fisheries minister, at HAV 21’s initial meeting in November. “Is Norway equipped to successfully compete for international funding, which comprises an increasing share of all research funding?”

 

Four Working Groups

So far, the Research Council has concluded an eight-city information tour on the strategy in Trondheim, Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, Ålesund, Alta, Tromsø, and Bodø. Next, the four working groups will gather all the input from the industry, interest organisations, authorities, and research institutions, which submitted their suggestions to the open based platform on HAV 21’s website by March 1. This will form the basis for each working group’s concluding report to the strategic steering group, which will in turn sew together the pieces into a final proposal report to the government in November 2012.

The Research Council has tried to be neutral in its guidelines – which represent indications of what might be included, not priorities – for each of the working groups. For instance, the council has listed examples of themes for the aquaculture group: sustainable seafood production (lice, genetic interaction, acreage use), healthy fish, future animal feed, other farmed species, environmentally friendly technology, genetic and breeding, and bio-energy.

Aquaculture research is one of the three business-oriented working groups, which includes fisheries and food. Einar Wathne, vice president at Cermaq/ EWOS Innovation, leads the 12-person aquaculture team. Management research, led by Geir Hønneland, research director at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, focuses on more general themes, such as the marine eco system, fish stocks, man-made consequences, integrated management, and the consequences to the marine environment from industries such as travel, renewable and petroleum energy, and maritime activities.

Together, the four working groups are expected to strengthen the dialogue between marine management interests and business. One of the main challenges, though, will be for the private sector to augment its share of the research and development spending. Approximately 63% of marine R&D funds in 2009 came from public spending, according to figures by NIFU, and much less than the average for the oil and gas industry, says Horn.

“There is the need to develop the necessary knowledge,” he said. “So far, public money has been the main instrument. But now the industry has to realize it has to spend more on research and development. We raised this question on the information tour, so now there is a debate.”

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