Former Mowi chairman on salmon farming in the open ocean: “It should have long since been clarified by the authorities”

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Jostein Refsnes believes that the licensing regime needs a thorough review.

He is a former chairman of Mowi, CEO of Hydro Seafood and FHL, as well as chairman of Nordlaks. Jostein Albert Refsnes has even had Nordlaks’ first ocean farm named after him. The now-retired industry stalwart giant’s heart is still beating for the aquaculture industry.

However, Refsnes believes that the current Norwegian licensing system, with prices of EUR 14-19 million each, is wrong and an obstacle to good development to the industry. The value of licence values has occupied him ever since, as chairman of Mowi, in the 1990s, he had to decide on these.

“At the time we had quite a lot of discussions in the board about this,” he told SalmonBusiness.

Large industry
“I think there is more left on the civil service side and the government side. Fortunately, there is no discussion anymore that aquaculture is a purely big industry and has extensive cross-over expertise from other industries. But I think we’re on the back foot. The best example is the struggle that both SalMar and Nordlaks have with the regulations for salmon farming in the open ocean. That should have long been clarified by the authorities,” he said.

“For everyone now sees that developing a blue Norwegian field is the future. Then one should be but increase energy on more investigation capacity, in order to create more business-friendly development,” he added.

A pensioner, he keeps himself up to date daily through the salmon farming industry’s online news service Ilaks. He has crystal-clear opinions on the way forward.

“It is not sustainable to work with a special Norwegian licensing system where you have to pay an entrance fee of very heavy size, and only after securing a licence, start investing in what is supposed to be industrial development,” he explained.

Rent not own
Refsnes himself has a solution ready:

“You have to get into a system where the main principle is to rent licences, rent a sea plot or site, instead of owning it. The new system must be economically attractive to the landlord, be it the government, the county or the municipality.

“In the old days, in the early 1990s in Hydro Seafood, Mowi manager Magne Bjørnerem and I discussed how expensive it was to buy a licence. Many years later, not least in cooperation with Kontalis Lars Liabø (Kontali Analyse .ed), I became aware that Norway is the only aquaculture country in the world working with the current Norwegian licensing system. A perpetual licence, can be owned by a Chinese or Swede to work with salmon in our own field,” he continued.

“We have to do as we did in our time with the private hydroelectric power,” said the long-time Hydro director. After 100 years licenses for hydroelectric power are given back to the government for free.

“We should learn from this very important event in Norwegian industrial history. Repatriation of today’s licensing rights can happen over many years, often over a generation.

“My point is that we need to start a race to give the field back to the community, the field we cook in. It’s a navigable and good road, I think,” he said.

Alternative
He believes this topic is particularly relevant in an election year.

“This issue arises from time to time, most recently in connection with the basic rate debate. We have Storting (Norwegian parliament .ed) elections this year, and new party programmes are currently being written. I would hope that the Labour Party and the Conservative Party reflected in their 2021 programmes that we need to explore an alternative to the current framework on the aquaculture industry and that the report includes the repatriation of salmon farming licences and the rental of ocean sites.

“From an industrial development perspective, I believe such an investigation is highly desirable. For it is not sustainable as now to pay so much to develop industry. This is my main point. It’s the community, our shared resources, that’s the case. This must change the current system in order for the Norwegian aquaculture industry to grow and develop sustainably,” he concluded.