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Conception and early planning

The concept of the DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN survey programme, which was to use a fully equipped and manned research vessel as a means to support fisheries in developing regions was proposed in 1963 by Klaus Sunnanå, Director of Fisheries of Norway at that time. His broad experience in fisheries included two years in India with the Indo-Norwegian fisheries project and continued association with that project. His proposal related to Norway's experience in the execution of that ambitious, and for its time, large programme.

Sunnanå's proposal was submitted to the Board of the Indo-Norwegian project, the forerunner of NORAD, in a memorandum entitled: “Norway's aid to the fisheries of developing nations: the construction and operation of a research vessel”. Here it was put forward that insufficient information on the natural basis for fisheries must be seen as a major impediment to the expansion of fisheries in developing regions. Systematic marine research was necessary to assess the magnitude of the resources and describe their composition and biology. In addition, there was a need to study environmental relationship and the extent to which fishing methods, gear and vessels from developed areas would have to be adapted in order to be effective under local conditions. After 10 years' experience from the Indo-Norwegian project it could be concluded that fishery research and trial fishing should have been an early and important objective of the project. In view of Norway's position as a leading fishing nation, the international community would have expectations of continued Norwegian engagement to aid fisheries in developing regions. Such expectations should be met, and an appropriate and effective form of aid could be the construction of a suitable research vessel operated by Norway, to serve several developing countries, in regions such as the Arabian Sea, the southwestern Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and possibly also Indonesian and West African waters. Co-operation with FAO and regional fisheries organizations would be essential. This represented a fair description of the programme as launched some seven years later.

Initiatives to assist fishery development in the third world in the 1960s and 1970s had their wider background in the global fisheries situation at about that time. By the early 1970s world fisheries had been through two decades of great expansion, but were heavily biased towards northern regions and industrial countries. Total global catches had expanded steadily and rapidly from some 20 million tonnes in 1950 to more than 60 million t in 1970. This growth started in the post-war period of economic expansion in industrialized countries and was facilitated by important technological advances in the fishing sector: synthetic fibres for fishing gear, gear-handling deck machinery, fish-finding equipment, increased size and power of vessels, etc.

The expansion in the 1950–70 period came first from increased fishing in the developed northern regions, the North Atlantic and the North Pacific which by 1970 accounted for about half the total world landings of 61 million t. With the exception of the remarkable development of the Peruvian anchoveta fishery to some 12 million t in 1970, there was only modest growth in the central and southern regions. In those regions where growth occurred during this time, a considerable part must be ascribed to increased activities by long-range fleets of developed fishing nations.

There was thus a lag on the part of the developing countries in world fishery development in the two or three decades after 1950. Many developing nations perceived this lag as a situation of non-equitable sharing of the biological resource wealth of the sea; and there was an increased pressure for development assistance toward the establishment of the Law of the Sea (LOS) regime in the 1970s.

The expansion of world fisheries into developing regions and the related recognized requirements for information on the resources created a need for increased fishery research in these regions. Starting in the late 1950s a number of coastal developing countries established fishery research institutions with economic support from the international community, UNDP's Special Fund or other sources, and with technical support from FAO. Bilateral programmes of assistance in fishery research between fishing nations in the developed and the developing regions were also formulated. The duration of support needed to create viable institutions was at first estimated at only a few years, but it soon became evident that this was wholly insufficient, and most arrangements were renewed several times or new longer programmes were agreed.

The background for a major programme of assistance to developing countries in fishery resource surveys was thus favourable around 1970. World fisheries were in a state of rapid development, coastal countries in the developing regions were keen to claim their share of the local resources, the importance of obtaining detailed and reliable information on the resources was understood and direct methods of resource appraisal by surveys were encouraged by the scientists. In 1970, after contacts between Mr H. Watzinger, Director of FAO Fisheries Industries Division at the time and the then Director General of NORAD, Mr R.K. Andresen, Mr Sunnanå's idea from 1963 was submitted to FAO's Fisheries Department in the form of an offer of a research vessel to be built by Norway and put at FAO's disposal with operational costs to be shared.

The proposal was warmly welcomed by FAO, and a joint FAO/NORAD Working Group was established to study the technical and organizational issues involved. The Group's report formed the basis for the further formal steps that were taken in 1971 consisting of two agreements; one between FAO and NORAD confirming that a vessel would be constructed and placed at the disposal of the Organization with costs to be shared and one between FAO and the Institute of Marine Research, Bergen (IMR) concerning the operation of the vessel.

The joint FAO/NORAD Working Group's description of the general arrangement, lay-out and size of the vessel - which included lists of proposed instruments, equipment and fishing gear was used as the basis for the development of the design and technical specifications of the vessel and its components.

Named DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN the vessel was commissioned in October 1974. The contractual building cost was NKr 14,850,000, but with the addition of scientific equipment and instruments and fishing gear the total cost was NKr 16,500,000 (which would correspond to about NKr 66,000,000 in 1995, the equivalent of about US$ 12,500,000).

The DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN proved to be a practical and versatile research vessel and a further three vessels of this type were constructed, the BIEN DONG and the NORUEGA built by NORAD for Viet Nam and Portugal respectively, and the MICHAEL SARS built by the Directorate of Fisheries for use in Norway.

Vessel, instruments and fishing gear

The DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN was built in 1974 as a fishery research vessel to the Norwegian VERITAS class IAI-stern trawler. Figure 1.1 shows an early photograph of the vessel. The specifications were: LOA 46.35 m, width 10.3 m, depth 6.5 m, 491 GRT. She had a 1500 hp main engine and berths for 28 persons. All deck machinery was hydraulic and there were freezer- and cool rooms.

The deck machinery included split trawl winches and two hydraulic drums for trawl nets. With the use of combination trawl doors there was no delay in switching between bottom and mid-water trawling.

Originally the vessel was also equipped for purse-seining, but this gear proved of little use in survey work and the arrangements were removed during a refit in 1979.

Navigational equipment included satellite navigation systems.

The acoustic equipment included a 24 kHz sonar and 38, 50 and 120 kHz echosounders. Three generations of SIMRAD™ echosounders and integrators were used: EKS combined with analog QM integrators until 1984, EK400 combined with digital QD integrators up to 1991 and the EK500 system in the remaining years. This equipment is further discussed in Section 2.3.

Figure 1.1


Assignments and operations

The responsibility for the strategic planning of the programme was shared between Norway, FAO and UNDP. In the 1970s and 1980s fisheries development in developing regions was supported by large-scale FAO/UNDP funding programmes and the DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN served several: the Indian Ocean Programme, the South China Sea Programme, the Committee for the Eastern Central Atlantic Fisheries (CECAF). The FAO/UNDP share of the operational costs was in part drawn from these programmes, but was later provided from special UNDP projects created for this purpose under the global programme GLO/79/011 “Assessment and Development of World Renewable Marine Resources”; GLO/82/001, “Survey and Identification of World Marine Fish Resources” and GLO/92/013 “Global Investigations of Fishery Resources.”

When gaps occurred in the FAO/UNDP funding, Norway assumed the full costs and made use of the vessel under bilateral agreements arranged by NORAD such as in Pakistan in 1977, Mozambique in 1977/78 and Sri Lanka in 1978/79. The overall objectives and the main area of operation were, however, not affected by these changes in funding.

When costs were shared, the apportionment was 40% assumed by FAO/UNDP from the start up to about 1983. It was then reduced to 20% and from 1987 on only a nominal amount was maintained in the UNDP budget. The programme continued, however, to benefit from the good offices of FAO and UNDP both at headquarters and in the field and in particular from the invariable support of and good co-operation with FAO Fisheries Department staff in Rome.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 Map of the areas covered by the DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN, 1975–93

Table 1.1 lists areas or countries covered in approximately 18 years of vessel operations, a more detailed list is presented in Appendix II. Figure 1.2 provides an overview of all areas covered. About half the time was spent in the Indian Ocean for which, by the mid-1970s information on the fishery resources was scarce. The first two-year survey of the northwest Arabian Sea had the largely exploratory objective of testing whether this region, known to be very promising from the viewpoint of basic biological productivity, held fish resources similar to those from other highly productive regions such as the eastern boundary current upwelling regions off West Africa and the west coasts of the Americas.

Table 1.1 Summary of survey assignments of the DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN by major sea areas and years

Area (countries)YearsRelevant chapter
Arabian Sea and adjacent Gulfs
(Pakistan, Iran, Oman, Yemen, Somalia, and Djibouti*)
1981, 1983, 1984
Eastern Indian Ocean and South China Sea
(Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Maldives*)
Southwest Indian Ocean
(Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Seychelles* and Madagascar*)
1980, 1982–83
Red Sea and Mediterranean* (Ethiopia*, Egypt*, Tunisia* and Algeria*)1981-
Atlantic Ocean off northwest Africa
(Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea- Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo*, Benin*, Nigeria*, Cameroun*, Equatorial Guinea, São Tomé e Principe and Cape Verde Islands*)
Atlantic Ocean off southwest Africa
(Gabon, Congo, Angola, Namibia)
1985–86 1989–937
Pacific Ocean off Central America
(Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico)
Caribbean Sea off northern South America
(Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Venezuela and Colombia)
*) Resources of these countries and area have not been reviewed in this report

Most of the subsequent assignments in the Indian Ocean had a character of providing inventories by countries. This period coincided with that of the establishment of EEZs by many coastal States and there was a great interest in obtaining descriptions of the resources found in these zones. These surveys were detailed and comprehensive and in most cases repeated in order to confirm main findings and to study seasonal variations.

Another type of survey in the Indian Ocean was related to one of the main findings of the first exploratory surveys of the northwest Arabian Sea: the very high abundance in a part of the region of mesopelagic fish, mainly Myctophidae. To study these fish in more detail, special surveys were mounted in the Gulfs of Oman and Aden in 1979, 1981 and 1983.

The objectives in the two years of surveys off the Americas, on the shelves of the Eastern Central Pacific and of the north coast of South America respectively, were to provide detailed information on the resources as a basis for further development of mostly existing fisheries.

The background was different for the assignments on the West African shelf, Morocco to Ghana, Angola and later Namibia. In these upwelling regions, there was a history of both fisheries and fisheries research and the task of the DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN programme was to provide up-to-date information on the state of the stocks for purposes of management of the resources as well as for further fisheries development.

IMR was responsible for the tactical planning of the assignments, a responsibility shared with the co-operating scientific institutions in the countries of operation. Representatives of FAO's Fisheries Department and of existing field projects often assisted in this process, especially in the case of regional programmes when formal meetings were called for planning purposes.

IMR's responsibility included the technical operation of the vessel, which was crewed from Norway, but often complemented with fishermen/deckhands from the region of operation; this also served training purposes. Technical breakdowns at times caused problems in regions where shipyards and dock facilities were scarce. From 1981, a new mode of operation was adopted involving two months of continuous operation followed by a one month's lay-up. This facilitated repair and maintenance and saved crew costs while maintaining an annual operational period in excess of 200 days.

The annual operational costs of the vessel started at about NKr 15 million (recalculated to the 1995 price index level). There was some increase after the early years, and since 1980 the cost level was NKr 17–18 million (US$ 3.4 million at the 1995 exchange rate) with no trend, but with variations caused by major refits. The main component (50–60%) was, however, crew wages, social insurance and travel. Scientific management and execution, together with reporting, meetings, scholarships, etc., represented a considerable additional cost estimated at some NKr 4 million (US$ 630,000).

The IMR scientific survey staff consisted of about five persons. In addition in each assignment arrangements were made for participation in the survey of a contingent of scientists and technicians from the countries included in the programme. They were selected and appointed by the respective government authorities and represented fisheries research institutions and sometimes universities. Their role in the work was of utmost importance and served several purposes. These include: to be made acquainted with the techniques and methods used in the survey and with the fish fauna in the area, to be trained in these aspects, to assist in the overall activities on board, especially sampling, logging and first analysis of data and, after the completion of the assignment, to help the authorities in recognising and understanding the reported findings. About five scientists/technicians from the relevant counterpart agency participated in survey execution and data processing on a rotation basis (see Appendix III). Professional co-operation also included scholarships for leading scientists from the counterpart institutions both at IMR and at the University of Bergen.

Review of evaluations - the extended programme

In 1982 NORAD organized an evaluation of the DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN programme by an independent team which visited six developing countries where the EEZs had been extensively surveyed by the vessel. The team held consultations with FAO and CECAF key personnel and otherwise based its analysis on replies to questionnaires from 29 countries which had been part of the survey activities up to 1982 (Hallenstvedt et al., 1983). The objective of the evaluation was in particular to assess the impact of the programme on the elaboration of fisheries sector development plans and fisheries management plans in the developing countries.

The findings of the evaluation team were largely positive. The vessel's survey data were used in many fisheries development plans and had in some cases played an important role in changing existing plans. The quality of the scientific work was considered high as was that of the reporting. The evaluation, however, noted a shortcoming to the programme: an insufficiency in the follow-up work. The information contained in the scientific reports was in many cases neither easily available nor fully understandable to the managers and entrepreneurs. This could be improved by dissemination of results through national and regional seminars with broad participation, an approach which was followed in later programmes when appropriate.

In 1986, with the end of the vessel's life time in view, NORAD requested FAO to undertake an evaluation of the future need for the deployment of fisheries research vessels in support of research and development programmes of third world nations. The terms of reference for this task were wide and comprehensive, and in addition to a core team of three specialists, FAO recruited consultants to provide expertise on resources, development planning and survey methodology. After a year's work, which included meetings with NORAD, UNDP, FAO and IMR, a final report was submitted (Anderson et al., 1987).

The main thrust of this study was an assessment of future need for a vessel like the DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN, and the group was not asked to undertake any specific evaluations of the vessel's programme. It made use of the 1982 evaluation and was provided with reports of the later assignments. The group's main conclusion: “that the programme of research and survey of the marine resources of the developing countries, initiated by DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN, be continued with a new replacement vessel…” must indirectly be considered as a mainly positive evaluation of the programme so far undertaken by the first vessel.

In 1988 the Norwegian Ministry of Development Co-operation commissioned a group of three independent specialists to undertake a “Review of available evaluation and information material in order to reach a decision on the possible continuation of the work of the fishery survey vessel DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN through the building of a replacement vessel.”

The report from this group was submitted in January 1989 (Anon., 1989). On the basis of the review made of available material concerning the work of the vessel and interviews with relevant persons, the consultants agreed with the main recommendation of Anderson et al. (1987), for a continuation of the programme with a replacement vessel. Issues regarding the organization of the programme and co-operation with other aid efforts were dealt with in a number of specific recommendations.

In 1991 NORAD, in consultation with FAO and UNDP, proposed a new phase of the programme to entail the following components

The new programme was approved by the Norwegian Government in 1992. The old DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN finished her last survey in June 1993 in Namibia and was sold. The new vessel, inheriting the name DR. FRIDTJOF NANSEN, was commissioned in October 1993 and started operations in January 1994.


Reporting was done in two stages. Preliminary cruise reports describing the work undertaken and a brief outline of the findings were usually issued at the end of each cruise, and full survey or summary reports were submitted after the termination of assignments. In addition, a number of seminars were organized to present and discuss the final reports usually in co-operation with the FAO Fisheries Department.

A complete list of all Cruise Reports and Summary Reports is presented in Appendix I, while the list of cruises in Appendix II contains a cross-reference to relevant Cruise and Summary Reports. Several Summary Reports have been translated into the languages of the area concerned (Spanish, Portuguese or French). Most reports have had a limited distribution, mainly in the countries directly concerned with the survey.

Chapters 3 to 9 of the present document form partly a summary and partly a revision of the main findings and conclusions as presented in the Summary Reports that were published for each area. However, in addition an attempt is made to link the results of all the surveys in terms of productivity and ecological criteria (Chapter 10). The revisions were made on the basis of the documented performance of the acoustic instruments, which is discussed in Chapter 2.

For the sake of completeness, and partly because of close operational links, the results of a survey project executed by NORAD/IMR for UNDP and FAO in the Arabian Sea off Southwest India, have also been included (Section 3.2).

For more details on each survey readers are referred to the original reports, which are available at local research institutes, offices of FAO Representatives, the FAO Fisheries Library and IMR, where also the computerized data are available for further research by authorized scientists.

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