Water quality standards and compensation measures
On 8 November, SWEMARC, the Maritime Cluster in Western Sweden and the Department of Law, University of Gothenburg, organized a public seminar on water quality standards and compensation measures at Annedalsseminariet, Campus Linné. Government officials, industry representatives, as well as others, were represented among the ca 30 attendees.
The public seminar was preceded by a workshop dedicated to identifying and discussing legal and policy differences between Denmark, Finland, Åland and Sweden. At the seminar, presentations on compensation were given from a natural science perspective, as well as from different national legal perspectives. The last section of the seminar included a panel discussion, making it possible for the audience to give input and to ask questions.
The presentations explained how the EU Water framework directive (WFD), and specifically the so-called Weser case, is interpreted and how it is implicating the taking of compensation measures (e.g. mussel farming) as a way to create "space" for activities that entail nutrient leakage. The Weser case made it clear that EU Member States must refuse authorization of any project that will result in deterioration of the status of a water body, or even jeopardize the attainment of good surface water status, unless the project is covered by a derogation. Even though the same EU legal framework applies in all countries (and regions), the approaches have been partly different.
- Professor Ellen Margrethe Basse, Aarhus University, held a presentation on the use of compensation in the Danish marine aquaculture sector. The Danish aquaculture legislation has not been changed due to the Weser judgment. However, two legal rules on compensation measures were introduced in 2017. View the ppt >>
- Professor Antti Belinskij, University of Eastern Finland, and Assistant Professor Niko Soininen, University of Helsinki, presented on the implementation of the WFD in Finland. The Weser case have had an impact in judgements laid down by Finnish courts. Nevertheless, the objectives of the WFD are weakly binding in Finnish legislation and there is no explicit mechanism for ecological compensation. View the ppt >>
- PhD Candidate Sara Kymenvaara, University of Eastern Finland, provided reflections on aquaculture permitting and compensation in the Åland region. In Åland, there has been no change in administrative practice due to the Weser judgement. However, a total revision of the Ålandic water legislation is currently carried out. View the ppt >>
- PhD Candidate Jonas Nilsson, University of Gothenburg, pictured the Swedish context of compensation measures. The Swedish legislation is not explicitly designed to prevent degradation, potentially leading to insufficient implementation of the WFD. Changes are currently made to the Swedish legislation, but the issues of compensation, to create “space” for development, continue to be rather blurred. View the ppt >>
- Finally, Professor Mats Lindegarth, University of Gothenburg, presented the natural science perspective on compensation measures, more specifically the usage of mussels and algaes for removal of nutrients. Successful nutrient removal is possible but not trivial. It requires planning and knowledge about growth conditions to optimize uptake and to minimize benthic impacts. View the ppt>>
The Panel Discussion
During the final panel discussion, the presenters were joined by aquaculture industry representative Joel Oresten, Smögenlax. He stated that it is ‘striking’ that the legislation is so different between the countries, and emphasized that businesses are not bound by state boarders. There was a consensus in the panel that the approach to the Weser judgement differ between the countries, with some countries taking it more seriously, and some countries having a more ‘relaxed’ approach.
The importance of procedural and administrative structures for efficient implementation of the WFD was also touched upon. Ellen Margrethe Basse suggested that the court system in Denmark, with no ‘environmental’ courts, may affect to what extent new case law is established in the field at issue. Moreover, legal traditions, such as strong property rights, may influence the legal conditions for water usage.
In comparison with agriculture, aquaculture may, from certain perspectives, be seen as a business sector that is unfairly treated. The legal systems tend to focus on new point source polluters, but of course there are existing activities that effect water quality. Regarding the question on how to handle scientific uncertainty, while still encouraging blue growth businesses and innovators, an introduction of experimental permits was put forward as a solution.