It’s only been little over a week since Harald Tom Nesvik took on the job as Norway’s new government minister in charge of the fishing industry. On Wednesday he felt compelled to ask the justice ministry to assess his impartiality regarding new guidelines for fish farming, after being publicly challenged over his previous job.
Nesvik worked for Sølvtrans, billed as the world’s largest wellboat company that transports live salmon and trout from fish farms to fish processing facilities. Norway’s Greens Party recently reported the company to the state police economic crimes unit Økokrim, following state broadcaster NRK’s report that Sølvtrans admitted it dumped water containing chemicals used to fight salmon lice in breeding grounds for cod.
Nesvik had told NRK that the regulations against such dumping were clear, but also claimed that some industry players found them unclear. He then announced that new guidelines would be introduced regarding the anti-dumping regulations.
That prompted questions over Nesvik’s impartiality from both the Greens and Socialist Left (SV) parties. He now wants the justice ministry’s evauation before he approves any new guidelines for a business in which he worked.
NRK has reported that many companies violate the dumping ban near any shrimp or breeding grounds for fish, without being punished. Lars Haltbrekken, who once led the environmental group Naturvernforbundet but now serves as a Member of Parliament for SV, and Une Bastholm of the Greens want to know whether Norwegian authorities will now take the initiative to investigate companies involved in illegal dumping and whether Nesvik agrees there are no professional grounds to blame unclear regulations.
Nesvik responded that he will not only will ask for the justice ministry’s evaluation of whether he’s impartial on the issue and allowed to handle it, but that work is underway to clarify the allegedly unclear regulatons. He claimed the fisheries directorate, not his ministry, is responsible for evaluating whether any companies should be reported to the police for any violations. “I won’t comment further,” he wrote, “until my role has been evaluated.”
Nesvik, who spent 20 years in local and national politics and earlier led the conservative Progress Party’s delegation in Parliament, took over his ministerial post after Progress Party colleague Per Sandberg was forced to resign. Sandberg got in trouble for violating government regulatons and security guidelines regarding his summer holiday trip to Iran.
Sandberg has since been blaming mostly the media for his troubles and will be writing a book about what was dubbed “Circus Sandberg” along with his new Iranian-born partner. State broadcaster NRK reported on Wednesday, meanwhile, that no one in the fisheries ministry was aware Sandberg had traveled to Iran until it received inquiries from journalists. Only then, when his own political adviser contacted him, did Sandberg confirm he was in Iran, after he had arrived. He didn’t inform the prime minister’s office until the day after that, in violation of the government’s own rules regarding foreign travel.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg indirectly delivered a new scolding to Sandberg late last week when she wrote in a response to questions from Parliament that government ministers are responsible for following laws and regulations and there are no good reasons for violating them.