Monday, May 23, 2016

23/05/2016: Norway’s new Fisheries Minister looking forward to Nor-Fishing 2016
Norway’s new Fisheries Minister, Per Sandberg (Image: NFD)
Per Sandberg is relatively new in his role as Minister of Fisheries. He took over on the 16th of December 2015, and is still learning the ropes. Previously he has not been engaged in fisheries matters, but he is learning fast. He is also known as one of Norway’s most controversial and free-spoken politicians with strong opinions on most matters.

When Mr Sandberg was appointed, there were mixed reactions. Some expected he would make a mess of things, while others were happy to get a fisheries minister who would surely put the fisheries sector on the political agenda.
Nor-Fishing met Mr Sandberg in his office in Oslo one sunny day in April.

How do you feel you were received by the industry?

Fantastically! I don’t think I had any negative comments from anybody in the industry. Of course some may disagree with me on certain matters, but that’s ok. That is, after all, politics, and disagreement is part and parcel of politics. But everybody in the industry has been really positive, from fishermen and producers to exporters.

When I was appointed Minister of Fisheries, some people commented that I “had to settle for” this position, that I perhaps had “higher aspirations”.  But they were completely wrong! As I see it, this is the most exciting position in Government. And think of the potential of this industry!

This is the most promising and exciting sector in Norway. And we Norwegians have a lot to be proud of in this field. I believe we have the world’s best fisheries management system, and we are at the forefront when it comes to fisheries and aquaculture technology.

I am somewhat of a newcomer to this field, but fortunately I have an exceptionally qualified staff to tutor me. Oftentimes I have to ask for a little 'lesson' when faced with matters that are not my speciality, and the staff is more than willing to instruct me. I am very grateful to them for that, because I can at times be a difficult man to work with. After all, I have a reputation for being quite stubborn. But it has happened on several occasions that I have changed my mind after having received more information and having had the time to reflect a bit more.

What do you think about the Norwegian fisheries industry today?
Norwegian fisheries have developed over hundreds of years. I just visited the Norwegian Research Council, and they told me the fascinating story about Jonas Axel Boeck and GO Sars, who in the 1860s got curious about what happened to the cod eggs in the ocean. Through the work they did, the foundation for the Norwegian fisheries research was laid. In this field we are among the foremost nations today. 

We should also mention the development of vessels and gear technology. In a way, Norwegian maritime technology started with fishing vessels. The know-how and technology in this field was later transferred to shipping, and then to the offshore oil sector. And now we see that suppliers to the offshore petroleum industry are turning to fisheries and aquaculture, as offshore projects are getting few and far between. In a way, the circle is complete.

Norway is the second largest exporter of seafood, and we are Europe’s largest fisheries and aquaculture nation. At present, everything is growing, and we could say that the situation is a bit abnormal: we have too much market and too little fish. I was recently in Poland, and down there they were crying because they could not get enough fish from Norway for their processing plants.

Although we are on an upward trend right now, we should be aware that it might not last. It is far from certain that this positive development will continue into the future.

What special challenges do you see in the coming years?
What we need to focus on now is how we can achieve a better utilisation of the raw material we take out of the ocean. Globally, perhaps as much as 30 million tonnes are lost every year! Processing waste, heads, intestines, offal or what we now call “rest raw material”. Much more of this can be turned into food for human consumption. In addition, there are emerging industries in chemicals and cosmetics and other  fields that use fish raw material for their production. 

Norway is a small country, and we have to cooperate with other countries about both resources and markets. Do you have any thoughts on that?
It is worth noticing that Norway participates in a broad and very fruitful cooperation within the field of fisheries. Although we are a small country, in fisheries and aquaculture we are big. When we speak in these international fora, the others listen to what we have to say.

I would like to especially point to our relationship with Russia. In spite of sanctions and the fact that Norwegian seafood is now barred from this market, we have managed to continue our cooperation within the management of the fisheries in the Arctic. Yes, there have been some smaller incidents, but in general this cooperation continues successfully.

Market access is essential to the Norwegian seafood industry. Any thoughts on that?
We are extremely dependent on the EU, because about two thirds of our seafood is exported to that market. But the EU is also dependent on us. The EU needs our fish for their processing plants and they need our seafood for their tables. The EU has a gigantic, - and increasing -, deficit in their fish trade, and has to import over 11 million tonnes of seafood every year.

While the EU is very important, we have to develop other markets, too, and I have great faith in the Norwegian seafood industry’s ability to do so. Look at what happened when Russia banned Norwegian seafood! Within a very short time our exporters had found new markets, and our total exports continued to grow. But Russia will be back. I have great faith in Russia.

Also, we should not forget countries like Japan and China. On the Chinese market we have also had some problems, but I believe these will be sorted out shortly. I am very fond of China, and I hope that I will have an opportunity to visit China while I am Minister of Fisheries.

As Minister of Fisheries, how can you help the industry internationally?
I am doing my best promoting Norwegian seafood when I am travelling abroad. Some will probably say that I am more active as an ambassador for Norwegian seafood than as a Minister of Fisheries. But I can live with that criticism. There is no reason why I should not be able to promote Norwegian fisheries technology also and I really look forward to visiting Nor-Fishing this year. It will be my first visit to this exhibition, although my wife has been there several times.

At present, our country is going through a process of change. The fisheries and aquaculture industry is one of the sectors that we have to develop further in the future. We have enormous ambitions, also internationally, and this is one of the reasons I am looking forward to mingling with the elite of the industry in Trondheim in August. I believe we have a lot to offer to other countries in this field. Many could learn important lessons from Norwegian fisheries management, for example.

I have had a look at the plans for Nor-Fishing 2016, and I must say I am very happy with the theme this year: how can Norwegian fisheries technology and management be used by other countries. This will be important to commercial operators as well as authorities in other countries. Usually, we have visiting delegations from a number of foreign countries coming to Nor-Fishing. I don’t have a complete overview yet, but I am sure several delegations will come this year, too.

We’ll see you all at Nor-Fishing! I am really looking forward to it!
Visit the Nor-Fishing site HERE.

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