Shore protection eased for aquaculture in Sweden

23 February, 2024

It may soon become easier to start algae and mussel farms in Sweden. This is indicated by a new investigation that suggests aquaculture should be able to bypass shore protection.

– It is entirely reasonable for aquaculture to be given the same conditions as other arable industries, but a significant increase in coastal aquaculture could have negative effects on the shore zone, accessibility, and water environment, says Sofia Wikström, associate professor of marine ecology at Stockholm University.

Aquaculture has been identified as a future industry with the potential to produce nutritious and sustainable food, which would also create more jobs and growth, especially in rural areas. However, it has been challenging to start and operate aquaculture in Sweden. To make it easier, the aquaculture sector has called for changes in legislation. Something that may now become possible.

– Small-scale operations in rural areas must be given the conditions to develop without jeopardizing the purposes of shoreline protection. The proposals in the investigation are interesting, as both aquaculture and various forms of small-scale economic activities, such as fish tourism and other nature tourism, may benefit, says minister of climate and environment Romina Pourmokhtari in a press release.

The investigation “Arable industries by water” proposed that aquaculture should be exempted from shore protection in Sweden, similar to agriculture, forestry, fishing, and reindeer husbandry today. It is primarily cultivation of mussels, oysters, and other non-fed animals, as well as small-scale algae cultivation, that will be easier to permit. Cultivations that are often highlighted as positive for the environment since they can help capture nutrients causing eutrophication.

– There is scientific support for the sustainability of this type of aquaculture compared to many other production systems. But that doesn’t mean it’s entirely problem-free, says Sofia Wikström.

Mussel farms have previously been criticized because they can worsen the local marine environment through the nutrients released from feces and other organic material that mussels emit when filtering food. This can increase algal blooms and contribute to oxygen deficiency at the bottom in areas where they are cultivated. However, the impact of a mussel farm depends on its size and location.

– It is important to conduct an environmental assessment in each case. There can be a significant difference in the impact of a mussel or fish farm if it is located in a shallow area with limited water exchange compared to a more open coast and deeper water, says Linda Kumblad, associate professor of system ecology at Stockholm University.

Moreover, the new proposal risks compromising the Swedish right of public access as more beach areas would be designated for specific purposes. The Swedish society for nature conservation has previously raised concerns that shoreline protection is eroding. In a review of 683 shoreline protection cases, dispensation was granted in 93 percent of the cases.

But not all aquaculture activities are included in the proposal. Larger fish farms still need to apply for permits to be exempt from shoreline protection. Hobby farms, such as marine allotment gardens, will not be affected either. To prevent the proposal from having negative effects on the marine environment, researchers believe that the new aquaculture methods should replace current methods, such as fish farming and feeding fishing.

– It can have a positive effect on the marine environment if it replaces worse alternatives, but it is not certain that it will be the case. If there is an expansion of aquaculture in the coming years, I think it is important to follow up on the effects, says Sofia Wikström.

Text: Lina Mattsson
Photo: Jocke Höög/DS

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