A group of 25 Norwegian salmon and trout farming companies have lost their challenge against the country’s “traffic light” system which regulates growth within the industry. They face a sizeable legal bill into the bargain.
The companies, mostly based in the south west of Norway, took their case to a district court in Bergen at the end of January.
Their region – designated as production area 4 or PO 4 – had been placed into a “red zone” which prevented future expansion. It also demanded a reduction in existing activity of six per cent, totalling up to 12,000 tonnes of fish. The cost to the farmers in financial terms was estimated during the case to be more than NOK 420m (£35m) a year.
The group argued that they were not only being robbed of their livelihood, but the decision would hit local communities who depend on aquaculture for jobs.
The system sees the Norwegian coastline divided into several colour coded production zones, consisting of green, where aquaculture expansion can take place virtually unhindered, amber or orange, where limited expansion is allowed and red where fish farming activity must be reduced. The Oslo government’s case was that the scheme is part of a wider strategy to reduce salmon lice and protect wild fish stocks.
However, in a verdict delivered by the court yesterday afternoon, the farmers lost their main arguments: that the move was an abuse of power, that it lacked legal authority, and that it represented a violation of European human rights. They had also claimed the government case contained factual errors. The court said the imposition of a red light zone did not signal a permanent ban on growth in PO 4, suggesting that the situation could change if the environmental situation improves.
The fish farmers are clearly disappointed by the decision and are likely to launch an appeal. Meanwhile, they have been ordered to pay government legal costs of more than 1,700,000 kroner (£150,000).
Fisheries and Seafood Minister Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen said last night he was pleased the state has won the case in full and been awarded legal costs.
He added: “We believe it is a correct conclusion; the verdict is comprehensive.”