Barents Sea 2007 – high activity in important area

Increasing sea temperatures, less ice, southern fish species and some reduction in the overfishing are some of the main points in three reports recently published on the status of the Barents Sea and the marine areas off the Lofoten Islands.

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Photo: Torgny Vinje / Norwegian Polar Institute

Assessment of the Management Plan for the Barents Sea is organized through three groups: the Expert Forum (Faglig Forum), the Monitoring Group (Overvåkningsgruppen) and the Forum for Cooperation on Environmental Risk (Forum for samarbeid om miljørisiko). The groups have just published their annual reports on the status of the Barents Sea ecosystem and human impact on the area.

  • Sea temperatures have clearly risen influencing the sea ice cover.
  • Fish species with Atlantic distributions are now observed in considerable quantities in the Barents Sea.
  • The cod population has been subject to great overfishing, and the spawning stock is decreasing. The golden red fish stock is still at a low level.
  • In 2007 there was a considerable nesting failure for many sea bird populations along the coast from Lofoten to Finnmark, and several of the populations are declining heavily.
  • The level of contaminants is generally low, while the levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and mercury are still high in top predators like polar bear and sea birds.
  • In terms of food safety of sea food, the level of foreign substances is low, perhaps with the exception of dioxin in cod liver.

The main findings with respect to human impacts are summarized below:

  • In 2007, 9.8 million tons of oil products onboard 212 tankers from northwest Russia passed through the Barents Sea. A traffic separation scheme was adopted in 2007 for the route Vardø-Røst, ensuring that traffic of tankers and larger cargo ships is moved further away from the coast.
  • Approximately 20 trial oil/gas wells have been drilled in the Barents Sea over the last decade. Snøhvit has begun production, and Goliat is under planning. A new gas discovery was made northwest of Goliat in the Barents Sea in 2007. The results from the well indicate possibilities for finding gas in this region of the Barents Sea.
  • For commercial fisheries there is a trend towards a stable situation over the last years. The overfishing of cod decreased to some extent in 2007, and the estimated total catch was close to the set quota. There has been a decrease in the catch of haddock and an increase in the catch of saithe. Capelin fisheries have been closed since 2004. Catches of shrimp are decreasing as a result of low prices and lower fishing efforts.

The working groups suggest focusing on gathering more information from the vulnerable areas of great value and the current status of the Barents Sea to improve assessment of changes in the ecosystem. Additionally, long time-series are requested to assess the difference between human induced changes and natural variation in the ecosystem. The Expert Forum has also pointed out the importance of more research on topics of importance relative to carrying out the Management Plan, and the lack of relevant research programmes at the Research Council of Norway.

Contact:

Head of the Expert Forum: Head of Department, , Norwegian Polar Institute
Phone +47 77 75 06 50, mobile +47 99 43 74 06

Head of the Monitoring Group: Senior Scientist , Institute of Marine Research
Phone +47 77 60 97 32, mobile +47 90 08 46 99

Head of the Environmental Risk Group: Head of Department , The Norwegian Coastal Administration
Phone +47 70 23 10 50, mobile +47 95 19 05 95

For further information contact:
Communications Director , Norwegian Polar Institute
Mobile +47 95 10 40 45