header_1

Aquaculture

The Aquaculture notation indicates potential grow-out areas for fish farming. A model produced by the Natural Resources Institute Finland was used to identify these areas.

When developing aquaculture, determining the most suitable areas and taking the status and ecological values of the marine environment into account is vital. It is also important to address the essential needs of the aquaculture production chain, such as infrastructure connections, ports and areas required for the different production stages. To develop aquaculture, taking into account the opportunities offered by new technologies for the spatial planning of fish farming is crucial. 

Vision developed for aquaculture: 

Aquaculture will support self-sufficiency, produce local and Finnish food in a sustainable and climate friendly manner, and enhance the vitality of the archipelago and coast. Aquaculture will support coastal infrastructure related to fishing.

On this planning round, the notation related to aquaculture only refers to marine fish farming in net cages. The FINFARMGIS modelling method, which is based on combining ecological, social and economic criteria in the spatial data set, was used to examine the potential for aquaculture. Previously, efforts have been made to utilise the FINFARMGIS model in the work of commercial fish farmers and in other projects to identify potential production areas. 

The plan identifies areas suitable for aquaculture off Hanko, Loviisa, Porvoo, Iin-Simo, Haukipudas and Pietarsaari, across extensive areas in Vaasa, Kristiinankaupunki, Eurajoki, Rauma and Uusikaupunki, and in the Archipelago Sea. 

Impacts

The ecological status of some of the areas designated for aquaculture in the Maritime Spatial Plan is no better than satisfactory.[1]  The reason for this is the eutrophication of the water system, which aquaculture promotes. The environmental impacts of aquaculture should ultimately be assessed on a case-by-case basis in more detailed planning. Depending on the area, fish farming accounts for 1% to 2% of the nutrient emissions into the Baltic Sea; the impacts may be more significant at the local level, however. The negative impacts are more significant in shallow areas where there is less water circulation. The harms can be reduced by locating grow-out production, which causes the greatest nutrient loading, in offshore areas. The Maritime Spatial Plan identifies new sites in further offshore areas than the areas in which most existing farms are concentrated. The environmental impacts of the activities vary greatly depending on their location, the characteristics of the area and the scale of the activities. 

Environmental permits for aquaculture are issued subject to case-by-case consideration, and the fact that an area has been identified as a potential site for aquaculture in the Maritime Spatial Plan does not guarantee that a permit will be issued. Consequently, the plan’s negative impact on the status of the aquatic environment will be minor even if new permits are granted.

In 2018, Finnish fish farms produced approx. 14.3 million kilograms of fish. The national target for 2022 is 20 million kilograms per year.[2]  If we assume that the nutrient load is 4.8 g/kg of phosphorus and 35.5 g/kg of nitrogen, and the quantity of fish farmed in the marine areas is increased by 5.7 million kg, the increase in nutrient loading from human activity in the Baltic Sea would be 0.39% for nitrogen and 0.98% for phosphorus.[3]  The impacts of this nutrient load would depend on the regional distribution of the increased production.

In addition, fish farming may have an impact on natural fish populations. If fish which have escaped from a farm breed with natural populations, this is regarded as harmful for the native fish populations. This phenomenon has little significance in Finland, as the most important farmed species, the rainbow trout, is unable to reproduce in Finland’s natural waters. A high density of fish also promotes the spread of diseases caused by various pathogens, which can be transmitted to wild fish. This problem has not been observed in Finland so far, and its likelihood and significance cannot be reliably assessed. Escaped rainbow trout may occasionally disrupt the spawning of domestic migratory fish, for example by stirring up gravel beds used for spawning, even if they are not themselves able to reproduce in the Finnish environment.

The demand for fish has grown strongly in recent years and has mainly been satisfied with imported fish. In such sources as the WWF’s Finnish Fish Guide, Finnish rainbow trout grown in net cages is classified as responsible, unlike rainbow trout grown elsewhere in Europe and Turkey, or especially in South America. The carbon footprint of farmed fish (approx. 3 to 5 kg CO2 eq./kg) is significantly lower than the carbon footprint of beef (20 to 30 CO2 eq./kg), for example. Replacing other animal proteins by fish reduces the climate impacts of food, and domestic fish farming decreases the volume of imported fish, which often comes from less sustainable sources.

Protected seals and cormorants sometimes also cause damage to fish farming, and attempts are made to combat it. The impacts of these measures were discussed in the previous section on fishing.

Due to the high demand for fish, operators have a significant need for new aquaculture permits for the marine areas, but finding suitable production sites has proved extremely challenging. Against this background, notations concerning sites identified as suitable for fish farming in the Maritime Spatial Plan may contribute to the growth of this sector, provided that suitable areas have been identified successfully. 

At the same time, however, essential legal uncertainties are associated with the feasibility of the plan. In the administrative practice, an attempt has even been made to limit the aquaculture sector’s ability to base its operations in areas excluded from the National spatial plan for aquaculture, even if the plan states explicitly that due to its general nature, its intention is to indicate areas where growth in the sector would probably be possible, rather than restricting the issue of permits to areas not covered by the plan. In legal practice, however, courts have so far found that the National spatial plan for aquaculture does not limit the granting of environmental permits for aquaculture to areas outside the planning notations.[4]  On this basis, we can expect that the Maritime Spatial Plan will not limit the growth of aquaculture in areas not designated for that purpose.

In a technological and economic sense, existing production in Finland is concentrated in more sheltered areas, whereas the plan identifying potential future areas mainly focuses on the more open offshore areas. Finnish operators have little or no experience of offshore fish farming, which means that the economic and logistic potential of the areas designated for fish farming is very uncertain.

The aquaculture industry would be willing to invest if permits were available, and the industry’s impacts would support the regional economy throughout the processing chain. The impacts of fish farming on the regional economy to a significant extent focus on areas outside growth centres, and as such they would also have an impact on supporting regional equality. Additionally, the Finnish fish market is highly reliant on imports and, if the production volumes did go up, this would reduce the volume of imported fish. The (partly fixed) structures used in aquaculture could offer new opportunities for the maritime industry.

If the aquaculture sector did succeed in growing, this would have an impact on human living conditions and comfort as well as recreational values, mainly in the archipelago and on the coast. While efforts are being made to direct the grow-out phase of fish to offshore areas, over-wintering sites in more sheltered areas will also be needed. Whereas their nutrient load is very low compared to the grow-out phase, they are usually located in areas where settlement or holiday houses may be found. As a whole, the impacts of overwintering sites or support areas are mainly landscape related. Some people find the impacts of ponds and harbours on the landscape quite insignificant, while in practice, most of the permit decisions for fish farming are appealed on the basis of landscape values if the farm structures can be seen from shoreline holiday houses or from boating areas in their vicinity.[5]  The impacts of grow-out sites on water quality are mostly local, and the locations of the farms can be selected ensuring that they do not have a significant impact on housing, holiday houses or the recreational use of water bodies.

Aquaculture may have a negative impact on the landscape. The significance of this impact depends on where the farms are located. In offshore areas the impact on landscape is minor, whereas in the archipelago, it may be more significant due to the sensitivity of the landscape. The farms’ sphere of impact on the landscape is generally rather small, and the impacts are local. Aquaculture supports regional livelihoods and services, which is positive for local residents. However, the nutrient loading and eutrophication caused by aquaculture also undermine the possibilities for the recreational use of water bodies and reduce the value of shoreline properties.

Obtaining new environmental permits has proved challenging due to legislation on water resource management planning. The National spatial plan for aquaculture prepared in 2014 also represents efforts to guide the location of fish farming in the marine areas. In other words, the Maritime Spatial Plan and the National spatial plan for aquaculture essentially share the same objectives, or guiding the location of new fish farms without legal effects by identifying potential areas for the sector on the map. In this respect, the Spatial plan for aquaculture is essentially more precise than the Maritime Spatial Plan. 

However, the map in the National spatial plan for aquaculture has been considered outdated to the extent that changes have taken place in the ecological status categories of water areas as the draft status classification for the third planning period of the water resources management plan was produced.[6]  The practical experience is that while the spatial plan is almost exclusively based on the principles of water resource management planning and reducing the impacts of nutrient loading, the legislation on water resource management planning has become an obstacle to granting environmental permits for fish farming also in areas identified in the spatial plan for aquaculture. In administrative practice, the spatial plan for aquaculture has often been examined mainly from the perspective of whether it restricts the granting of environmental permits for areas if the proposed production is not in keeping with the spatial plan, even if the plan’s objective was quite the opposite. The opinions of the environmental authorities have also contained views according to which the FINFARMGIS analysis would not be a suitable method for identifying areas suitable for expanding aquaculture production due to its methods and the underlying weightings.[7]

Kuva 6. Vesiviljelyn vaikuttavuuspolku

Sources

[1] See the water management status classifications for the third planning period, which have not yet been approved by the Government. For example, paikkatieto.ymparisto.fi > vesikartta or https://www.syke.fi/fi-FI/Ajankohtaista/Tiedotteet/Suomen_vesien_tilaarvio_Jarvien_ja_jokie(51384) 

[2] Aquaculture Strategy 2022. A competitive, sustainable and growing industry. Government decision 4 December 2012.

[3] Input values of human-induced nutrient loading Finnish Environment Institute 2015. https://www.ymparisto.fi/fi-FI/Meri/Mika_on_Itameren_tila/Itameren_typpikuorma_Suomesta(31457) and https://www.ymparisto.fi/fi-FI/Meri/Mika_on_Itameren_tila/Itameren_fosforikuorma_Suomesta(31444) 

[4] Vaasa Administrative Court 16 May 2019, 19/0212/3.

[5] For example, see Other decision 2872/2014 of the Supreme Administrative Court and Vaasa Administrative Court, register numbers 01300/19/5302 and 01305/19/5302 (pending appeal process)

[6] Draft environmental protection guidelines for fish farming. Request for statement by the Ministry of the Environment VN/1437/2019-YM-1, 10 January 2020.

[7] VARELY/2289/2019, 4 July 2019, no 9/2019, pp. 18-19.