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  • Writer's picturePer Ståle Larsen | Principal Consultant

Lessons Learned: Barrier Management for Aquaculture in Exposed Areas

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

Barrier Management for Aquaculture

Over the past few years, ORS has been providing barrier management support to multiple innovative fish farming concepts in exposed areas. Both for the design phase and operations, the primary focus for the barrier management scope has been the prevention of fish escape, but it has also covered the impact on personnel safety and environmental impact due to major accident hazards.

While there is significant variation between the fish farm development concepts, e.g. environmental conditions, design and planned operation, some common issues reoccur across most of the study cases. This article aims to highlight a few of these and offers some suggestions for improvement.


There is an expressed goal from the Norwegian Government that the production from aquaculture shall increase fivefold by 2050 compared with 2010 production levels. However, during recent years the production has stagnated due to environmental challenges in the industry.

The Government introduced a temporary arrangement between November 2015 and 2017 called development licenses. Development licenses could be granted as financial risk reduction to companies with an innovative fish farm concept that contributed to reducing the existing environmental challenges, e.g. reducing fish escape risk or improving fish welfare. Per April 2020, 18 companies/concepts have been granted a total of 98 development licenses.

The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries has issued a strategy document concerning escape of fish from aquaculture ("Strategi mot rømming fra akvakultur"). The strategy document introduces the concept of barrier management as a necessary methodology/tool for converging towards the Norwegian Government’s zero vision for fish escape. Basis for the barrier management methodology referred to in the strategy document is the framework provided by the Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) for the petroleum industry.

The reasons for introducing barrier management include:

  • Fish escape statistics indicate that increased complexity in operational procedures and technical solutions results in increased risk for fish escape;

  • Current trends in the industry indicate a severe change in basic assumptions concerning design and operation within the industry.

In this context, barrier management is introduced as a methodology to control the fish escape risk for novel fish farming concepts for planned operations in exposed areas.

Barrier Management for Fish Escape hazards

The methodology and principles outlined in PSA’s Barrier memorandum from 2017 form a good basis for establishing barrier management framework and processes to sufficiently control fish escape hazards for fish farms.

There are many similarities between fish escape hazards and loss of containment hazards, typical for the petroleum industry. Both hazard categories address prevention and mitigation measures for loss of integrity. Typical fish escape hazards are:

  • Ship/vessel collision;

  • Drifting objects;

  • Loss of stability/structural integrity;

  • Load handling (dropped object);

  • Cleaning/handling/wear of fish containment barrier;

  • Fish handling activities;

  • Whales and predators.

Barriers required to reduce the risk to an acceptable level can be categorized according to the chronology/sequence of events as follows (including examples of barriers for each of the groups):

  • Prevent: • Inherently safe design; • Robustness and redundancy in design; • Adhering to procedures and safety management system (SMS).

  • Detect: • Alarm systems; • Regular monitoring of containment systems.

  • React: • Remove fish escape potential (e.g. controlling/limit fish movement or use ballast system to move breach in containment barrier over surface level); • Repair breach in containment barrier.

  • Mitigate: • Adhering to emergency preparedness plan for fish escape.

Processes for managing the barriers during project phase and operation should be established based on the identified hazards and barriers. It should be noted that risk analyses, considering the relevant hazards and barriers, also are required to demonstrate that the risk from fish escape is acceptable.

Things to consider

Lessons learnt for managing the fish escape hazard for fish farms in exposed areas include:

  • Barrier management principles given by PSA and used in the petroleum industry are relevant and applicable for aquaculture;

  • Barrier management founded on PSA principles is a novel methodology for many within the aquaculture industry;

  • Shifting of fish farms from fjords to exposed locations requires additional competence and disciplines compared with conventional fish farming;

  • Shifting of fish farms from fjords to exposed locations requires fundamental changes to safety management systems (SMS) and procedures;

  • Control of performance influencing factors (PIFs) such as competence at company and crew level, quality of safety management system and knowledge of technical condition is critical to ensure the required barrier performance during operation.

How to Improve

Based on experience from case studies, the following measures are recommended:

  • Apply barrier management processes within aquaculture risk management. Principles outlined by PSA are a good starting point. However, the fine-tuning of the case-specific methodology should always be commensurate with the project complexity and comprehendible for all involved stakeholders.

  • Involve Asset Operations (end-client and crew) as soon as possible in development projects. This is critical to ensure: • Identification and evaluation of relevant hazards and barriers; • A good handover from project to operation and reduction of the risk of PIFs impairing the barriers; • Mapping of required and missing competence and disciplines for Asset Operations; • Establishment of fit for purpose safety and asset management systems.

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