The activities of Andøya Space increasingly challenge the fish industry off the coast of Andøya Island, according to fisher Yngve Larsen. Andøya Space CEO Ketil Olsen says they are prepared for more dialogue in order to arrive at solutions.
“We, the fishers, also want development to happen in Andøy municipality. However, that cannot come at the expense of already existing industries”, says small-vessel fisher and chair of Andøy Fishers' Association Yngve Larsen to High North News.
Andøya military air base is shutting down and the municipality at the northernmost end of the Vesterålen archipelago aims high when it comes to Andøya Space. The space industry enterprise can offer a series of new jobs and activity in the years to come. At the same time, the fish industry in the area fears that the ever-increasing space activity will put pressure on fisheries taking place in precious fishing areas just off the island’s western coast.
Andøya Space has been based in the municipality for decades and has launched research rockets since 1962. Even though these only constitute a marginal disturbance today, Larsen says the fish industry views the totality of all activities as a challenge.
According to him, it is in particular the company’s defense-related activity, such as testing of weapon systems, that constitutes an ever-increasing challenge to the fishers.
In the ocean areas to which Larsen is referring, the subsidiary Andøya Space Defence operates a.o. weapon system testing. It conducts a series of projects in testing and regular exercises annually in cooperation with both Norwegian and allied military departments and defense industry.
The company’s annual report for 2020 states that the company conducted four major activities with both Norwegian industry and a couple of allies.
“It is like having an international exercise area right in the middle of what is perhaps the best fishing ground in Norway. It is ridiculous”, argues Larsen of Andøy Fishers' Association.
The fishers receive notifications from Andøya Space about launches. Testing of weapons, such as missiles, necessarily demands large security areas that once in a while will claim use of ocean areas and lead to a halt in or postponing of fishery activities.
“We also note that the Armed Forces make increasingly use of these areas in a way we are not used to. The Coast Guard uses the fjords for shooting exercises. It is not just about area conflicts. We also fear that marine exercises and using electronic equipment will scare the fish away”, he adds.
“The totality of activities makes one start fearing for the future of the entire fish industry in Andøy”, the local fishers association leader says.
“The access to fish is one thing. One should also have a competence community that can exploit the fish and invest. In Andenes, there are two fish buyers, one of which is only intermittently open, and the other considering purchasing stop a couple of weeks in summer. And of course, the more we are pushed out from the area, the less fish we will be able to land. That makes being based here less attractive for fish buyers. Yet you hardly hear local politicians speak about fisheries today, it is all about Andøya Space”, Larsen claims.
There is an obvious need for better coordination
On the western side of the island, not far from Nordmela hamlet, Andøya Spaceport is about to establish a launch base for small satellites.
“We fear that there will be significantly more weapon testing in this area, in addition to launching of satllites. Andøya Space is, after all, a commercial company and has a goal about making as much money as possible. However, this growth comes at the expense of fishery activities”, Larsen says and adds:
“If we are to have a foundation at all for cooperation of some sort and co-existence, Andøya Space cannot expect unhinged growth while the fish industry just has to accept it.”
A demanding balancing act
CEO Ketil Olsen of Andøya Space points out to High North News that common use of the ocean areas has been and still is a demanding balancing act.
“It is important to me that we fit into our community and that we can have mutual respect for different industries with different needs. We have tried keeping up contact through public meetings and information meetings, so that we can inform the local population, amongst others about our plans for satellite launches”, he says.
Olsen explains that part of their social mandate is about facilitating access for business, science and governance to areas for technology testing and scientific research. That also goes for the Armed Forces when they want to test their systems.
The CEO is nevertheless clear that there has been an increase in defense-related activity in recent years and that the Armed Forces have been more interested in using the areas.
“The change in the security situation around us makes that highly relevant. Both users and producers from the defense industry are our customers.”
“At the same time, we strive to shorten the time we actively use in the areas during campaigns [activities, journ.note], so that it shall affect fisheries to a smaller extent. We take some measures here when it comes to a.o. the winter fisheries. We try to do these kind of activities at night and we work on improving notification, for instance through our launching a new and free SMS service. We also try to find areas for our activities in which there are no fisheries”, the CEO explains.
Argues that plan is missing
In October, Andøya Spaceport received a total of NOK 365 million from the Norwegian government to build the aforementioned launch base in Børvågen.
One of the conditions for the grant was for the company to present a plan “securing the interests of other industries, such as the fish industry, be maintained in a responsible way. When working out this plan, relevant industrial actors are to be consulted, amongst them, the fishers' association”, the government states.
“We require that Andøya Space Center in consultation with stakeholder actors find solutions that allow different industries to continue to co-exist in Andøya”, said then-Minister of Trade and Industry Iselin Nybø (Liberal Party).
Larsen argues that the parties have not managed to agree on such a plan.
Established coordination forum
“There is an obvious need for closer coordination”, Olsen of Andøya Space points out.
He explains that in 2019 a coordination forum for the parties was established, also including the navy and the Coast Guard, and that through these meetings there was a plan for how to maintain dialogue and co-existence between the industries.
“We previously had quarterly meetings, however, we have been unable to establish a mutually accepted coordination forum, as was our desire. With the fishers' association [in Andøy, journ. note] withdrawing from the meetings in September this year, keeping up the dialogue has been challenging”, Olsen says and adds:
“I want to try and find other solutions, so that we maintain this plan. We want dialogue. There is no doubt about that. We all have to return to the table. However, I note that the chairman is not happy. If we get back together again, we can start exploring how to find better methods. As it is now, none of us are able to express to the other side how we believe this can get better.”
Olsen adds that he was only a few days into his new job when he got in touch with the national level of the fishers' association to communicate that he would be interested in re-establishing dialogue with the relevant fish industry actors, among others about issues related to Andøya Spaceport. He further contacted Yngve Larsen of Andøy Fishers' Association in November.
We have listened to them in meetings with the company for more than a decade
Not happy with the dialogue
Larsen of the local fishers' association adds that the association proposed expanding the annual meetings to include all actors having activity in the area, including the Armed Forces. The idea was to sit down together and establish an annual cycle for when the various activities were to take place in order to have some form of continuity and planning.
“In these meetings, we were reduced to becoming an audience, having no influence whatsoever. We did not consider that expedient, so last summer we withdrew from these meetings”, he says.
“We have listened to what they say at these meetings with the company for more than a decade now. We feel we are not being heard.”
Expecting a meeting
The area conflict issue has received wide support within the fishers' association, Larsen says. Not only is the coast-based fleet affected; in the fall time, there are major herring fisheries in the area. The fishing vessel owners’ organization Fiskebåt has also engaged, along with Andøy Fishers' Association, the Norwegian Fishers' Association, Nordland County Fishers' Association, and Seafood Norway, in meetings with Andøya Space in recent years.
“They are as critical as we are. We have major support from all fleet groups”, he says.
As previously mentioned by the local daily Bladet Vesterålen, Seafood Norway and the Fishers' Association have recently requested a meeting with the political leadership of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries about Andøya Space and its activities. Seafood Norway Director of Industry and Trade Stine Akselsen says to High North News that so far, they have not received any answer about such a meeting.
“The fish has been here for thousands of years. I do not believe we will operate rocket and missile launch activities here for as long as we have been conducting fisheries here”, Larsen says in closing.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.