Permits on the North Sea
Please note: a large number of laws and regulations mentioned on this page have been included in the Environmental and Planning Act as of January 1, 2024. The texts below have not yet been adapted to this. All information about the Environmental and Planning Act can be found on the website of the "Informatiepunt Leefomgeving".
On the North Sea, there are a number of laws in force that make permits obligatory for certain activities. Not all laws are applicable everywhere on the North Sea. In a law, it must be stipulated whether that law applies only inside Dutch territorial waters (the 12-mile zone) or also outside those waters (the EEZ, Exclusive Economic Zone). The following Dutch laws apply to the entire EEZ: the Water Act, the Mining Act, the Flora and Fauna Act, the Nature Conservation Act and the Earth Removal Act. As far as the permit obligation is concerned, the Monument Act extends to the contiguous zone (the 24-mile limit). In general, all ‘normal land laws’ also apply in the territorial waters.
It is possible to sail on the North Sea without permits. Needless to say, you should at all times comply with the regulations in the Shipping Traffic Act and with the Maritime Regulations for territorial waters. Furthermore, you must remain in contact with the Coastguard and the various port authorities. Recreational use of the North Sea and numerous military activities are also possible without permits.
For which activities is a permit obligatory?
The extraction of minerals. If these minerals are located in shallow water (less than 100 metres deep), you must have an earth removal permit. This usually involves the extraction of sand or shells. For the deep subsoil, you need a Mining permit. This generally involves oil or gas, but it also includes rock salt and geothermal heat.
Fishery is linked to the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy and is therefore subject to strict measures and regulations. These measures and regulations relate to areas, catches (quotas), seasons and days at sea, engine capacity and regulations for fishing gear.
Dumping at sea
Dumping is prohibited, in principle. Substances currently being discharged into the North Sea mainly consist of discharges of non-contaminated dredging spoil, which are in accordance with the Soil Quality Decree (Besluit Bodemkwaliteit = Bbk). The dredging spoil must be a useful other application and may therefore not be intended as the dumping of a waste substance. Before dredging spoil is dumped, a study into the chemical quality of the spoil must first have been conducted. Dumping may only take place after it has been demonstrated that the standards are being complied with. Other discharges, such as cooling water and wastewater from sewage water purification plants, for example, require a permit in accordance with the Water Act.
Installations at sea
You need a permit in accordance with the Water Act to build or position ‘installations’ in, on, above, under or over the seabed of the North Sea. Examples include structures for fish breeding or for collecting mussel seed, positioning wind turbines and other large structures, or trenches that have been excavated for pipelines and cables. If such structures also fall under the Mining Act, then you only require a permit in accordance with the Mining Act.
Activities in or in the vicinity of a Natura2000 area are only permitted if you have a permit in accordance with the Nature Conservation Act. You must first conduct an ‘appropriate assessment’ before applying for the permit.
Flora and fauna
Activities that endanger protected animal species require an exemption from the Flora and Fauna Act. Protected animals on the North Sea mainly involve marine mammals, birds and a large number of fish.
Wrecks and archaeological objects
Many shipwrecks lying on the seabed and other man-made structures are regarded as archaeological objects and fall under the Monument Act. You may only carry out activities in the vicinity of such objects if you have a permit in accordance with the Monument Act.