The European Union claims that vessels from member nations have a right to catch just as much of the crabs found on the seafloor around Svalbard as Norwegian vessels have. The claims set the stage for more drama in a conflict that goes far beyond crab, and may trap Norway itself over its claims to other potential bounty from the seas like oil and gas.
The conflict over what Norway calls snøkrabbe (spider- or snow crabs) has long been simmering, after fishing vessels from EU member nations demanded rights to fish for them in waters off the international Arctic territory of Svalbard. It’s administered by Norway under an international treaty, however, so Norway has claimed rights to the waters in the absence of any quota agreements.
While the Svalbard treaty gives Norway authority over the islands, it also provides all countries that have signed it equal access to what’s called “the Spitsbergen island group.” Norway, however, contends that the equal access and ban on imposing taxes don’t apply to the seafloor within 12 nautical miles of Svalbard’s shores. The EU disagrees and recently challenged Norway to issue licenses for crab-catching around Svalbard.
Now news bureau NTB has delved into documents tied to the conflict and found that it’s salty indeed. The EU claims that European vessels should be able to fish the “same amounts as Norway, under the same terms.” That implies that the conflict over the potentially highly lucrative crab that’s fairly new to the Svalbard waters can soon boil over into a major trade dispute. It looms at a time when Norway needs to retain market access to the EU, is anxiously trying to follow Brexit negotiations and wants preserve its interests as a non-EU member.
Norway must comply, meanwhile, with most all EU rules and regulations through its membership in the EU’s European Economic Area (EEA, known as EØS in Norwegian). The snow crab case has also been called a “test balloon” to see how Norway might handle any claims to oil under the sea floor.
Meanwhile the crab conflict remains frozen after several meetings between Norwegian and EU officials that failed to produce a solution. Fishing rights for 2018 must soon be agreed upon, however, another factor that’s raising the crab conflict to the boiling point.
NTB reported Wednesday that Norway has proposed discussing the issue in Bergen later this month in connection with ordinary negotiations over fishing rights. The EU wants to keep the Svalbard crab conflict out of the other talks, which are difficult enough themselves. An EU spokesman told NTB it wants a special agreement pertaining only to the snow crab catch.
Norway currently claims rights to 4,000 tons of the crabs, setting aside just 500 tons for prospective quota exchanges. NTB reported that indicates Norway isn’t prepared to give away a single crab, and will only allow crabbing off Svalbard if it gets something in return. That’s been flatly rejected by the EU, which already has issued licenses for crabbing to vessels mostly from Latvia, but also to Lithuania, Poland, Estonia and Spain. Norway has rejected the legitimacy of the licenses.