Norway is a leading producer and exporter of Atlantic salmon, and open sea-based cages in the coastal zone has been the leading technology since the 1970s. In recent years, new production systems have been emerging, for both coastal and offshore locations. This may require adjustments in the regulatory framework, which has been described as fragmented.
In daily operations, employees at the fish farm and vessels have a responsibility to handle a range of operational risks to ensure personal safety, fish health and welfare and the environment. Studies find that workers are exposed to several hazards in their work environment, and may experience dilemmas related to for instance personnel safety and production or fish welfare and profits
Reducing risks, as well as utilization of new areas, were prevalent in the call for "development licenses", a temporary license aimed to spark innovation introduced in 2015
. A total of 104 applications were submitted by the deadline in 2017. Criteria for being awarded development licenses targeted some risks (e.g., salmon lice, escapes, waste) and not others (e.g., occupational health and safety) . Furthermore, concepts had to be unique, which may also introduce unique risk scenarios that must be handled.
It was the Directorate of Fisheries (DF) who were responsible for the call and assess ment of applications. Even though it is required to assess all risks in the operation of the farms, the Food Safety authority (FSA) (responsible for fish welfare), Norwegian Labour Inspection authority (NLI) and Norwegian Maritime authority (NMA) (responsible for occupational health and safety) had no formal role in the assessment processes.
While the criteria guided applicants towards tackling certain risks through technological innovation, the fish farmers who operate the farms must consider all operational risks in their risk management to ensure safe operations. The question guiding this study is: H ow were operational risks managed in selected innovation processes?
Material and methods
The research question is addressed through material from 44 semi-structured interviews with fish farmers and suppliers who have applied for development licenses, as well as interviews with authorities, organizations, and other key stakeholders. Interviews were conducted between January 2021 and January 2022.
Additional materials included publicly available documents such as consultation response, response letters to applicants, media coverage and other documentation from the projects.
Interviews provided knowledge regarding applicants’ approach to risk management in the innovation processes , including what type of competence they saw as important at different stages. In addition to the fish farming companies and suppliers, universities, research institutes and consultant agencies also provided advice for several of the projects .
Interviews showed that risk assessments were used to identify operational risks. The ca ll asked for descriptions of how the project would affect fish welfare, and how this could be measured. Several projects were concerned with the welfare of the fish, fish mort ality, how the fish would handle the new technology and making sure the personnel could perform operations and maintenance. Here, previous research was seen as an important source. The licenses ’ purpose was to test the technology, and one informant underlined that the licenses did not give them any chance to do a large-scale scientific study regarding the welfare of the fish . The Food Safety Authority a lso addressed issues regarding fish welfare stating that consideration of fish welfare and fish health has not been adequately addressed when licenses for production have been developed and awarded, pointing out the animal welfare law requirements of ensuring animal welfare in all technology.
Occupational health and safety were not mentioned as a criterion in the call for licenses. However, and especially for offshore concepts with harsher weather conditions and increased distance from shore and potentially having to use helicopter transport , personnel safety in operations was addressed in the innovation processes. Concepts with more stable work platforms as less use of vessels in operations, compared to traditional net cages with plastic collars, were seen to reduce risk for workers . While the interaction with regulators varied among applicants, some contacted the NLI and the NMA to discuss concerns regarding risk management r elated to regulations for work hours . Following the innovations aimed for offshore locations, the government also started working on new regulatory requirements for occupational health and safety applicable for offshore aquaculture, aiming to finalise regulations in 2023.
I nterviews show that the applicants applied different strategies to manage operational risks throughout the development licenses innovation process . New technologies can reduce risk, but also introduce new risks. To ensure safe operations and compliance with regulations, all risks must be handled when the farms are in operation. When technological innovation is first on the agenda , it is therefore crucial th at the operational risks are identified and managed throughout the innovation processes.