We investigated the effects of the Norwegian aquaculture industry on our local environment and politics. We used public available data to research three stories that could help us shed new light on ongoing conflicts.
· “Salmon farming on dispensation”: Salmon farms are growing in our local area because of dispensations from local governments. We wanted to know how many dispensations from national law were given and where they were given.
· “The sick fjord”. The fjord south of Osterøy, Sørfjorden, is in dire straits. Declining oxygen levels in the sea, worrying bottom conditions. Some experts blame the seabass farms in the fjord. Is that true? How bad is the situation? What are the consequences?
· “The dead lobsters”: 40 lobsters died on two separate locations the day after de-licing with a mix of neurotoxins at a nearby salmon farm. The Institute of marine research ruled out any connection. Could they be wrong? Was there another explanation?
TO READ THE STORIES:
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Every 15 minutes, every day of the year, a truck crosses the border on its way out into the world with Norwegian farmed salmon. Every day throughout the last year 36 million meals with Norwegian salmon was served around the world. Currently demand greatly outstrips the supply. Minister of Fisheries Per Sandberg (The progress party) chases that objective and wants to see a fivefold growth by 2050.
There’s growing concern among experts and scientists if such a growth is sustainable. There are also they who believes that today’s production levels are too extreme. We wanted to investigate the latter by ourselves.
We knew that there were plentiful of public data about the aqua cultural industry. We asked ourselves the questions: Is the production we have today sustainable? How are fish farms affecting the environment? Are the politicians wish for growth clouding their judgment in any way?
Locations of fish farms from Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries. Both active and deleted. Also results from bottom condition examinations. Lice, disease and deaths from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. AIS data from the Coastal Authority, reports and fact sheets from the Institute of marine research. Data about water quality from the County Governor of Hordaland. Data about dispensing of de-licing toxins from the Veterinarian institute. Information about dispensations from municipalities.
Data was acquired through open data services, FOIA-requests, interviews and questionnaires
Two journalists, two data journalist/news developers, two project leaders. The work went on for a period of two months.
“Dead lobsters”: We challenged the findings of the Institute of marine research and the conclusions presented by the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries. A problem to show a connection was that there were no traces of the neurotoxins in the lobster. As a result of our questions the institute tested the treatment on shrimps, that also died. And no toxins could be traced in them at the laboratory. We also discovered errors in the original study regarding the doses of the neurotoxins used by the sea firm. This story is still under development.
There were in fact two different ongoing investigations on the dispensations from official authorities. Both of them had a different result. So we decided to do it ourselves and talk to all the municipalities in our county. Then we crossed our lists with official data on aqua farms to remove false positives.
“The sick fjord”: The municipality council in Osterøy is now working on strict environmental regulations for future seabass farms.
There’s not a single governmental unit that oversees aqua cultural farms. There are in fact three: The Directorate of Fisheries, The Ministry of Environment and the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. We also needed other data as weather data, ship traffic, spreadsheets from various sources. To keep track of all of our sources we built our own data harvesting tool.
We knew that our potential findings would be met with scepticism from the industry and its supporters. All wrangling of the data should be documented, preferably also scripted. If we got called out we should easily be able to recreate our findings
That data gets reported doesn’t mean its available. We tried to get historical data about de-licing from the Food Safety Authority, but they told us that they didn’t know how to retrieve them. We issued a FOIA-request for their data base structure and pinpointed the exact location of were these data were stored. During our dialogue a new public service called Barentswatch emerged.