Norway launched an unusually strong protest against the EU on Tuesday, calling its decision to grant fishing rights in a protected zone off Svalbard “completely unacceptable.” Norway has long claimed sovereign rights to the seas and sea floor around Svalbard as an extention of its internationally accepted authority over the Arctic archipelago.
“Norway is protesting the EU’s one-sided licensing of fishing quotas in the protected fishing zone around Svalbard,” declared Fisheries Minister Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen Tuesday afternoon. “This is completely unacceptable behaviour on the part of the EU. Norway has sole rights to regulate fishing in the zone around Svalbard, and only Norway can issue EU fishing quotas in the area.”
Ingebrigtsen compained that the EU “had dealt itself a quota of 28,431 tons of cod” in the protected zone for 2021. “That’s in violation of Norway’s sovereign rights under maritme law,” Ingebrightsen stated, “and we view that extremely seriously.”
Norway’s fisheries minister, acting on behalf of the government, said he had “therefore made it clear to the EU that every single fish caught beyond Norway’s own issuance of quotas will amount to illegal fishing and will be dealt with by the Coast Guard in the usual manner.”
Newspaper VG reported that Ingebrigtsen met on Tuesday with the EU’s fishing commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius. They did agree that it’s important for fishing quotas off Svalbard to be agreed upon quickly.
Norway has, since the zone was first set up in 1977, issued fishing quotas and licenses to various third countries that had fished in the area earlier. The quotas allowed “historic fishing” to continue and they were based on catches in the 10-year period before the zone was established as a means of preventing over-fishing in the area. It stretches 200 nautical miles out to sea from Svalbard.
“This has been a very important contribution towards sustainable management of fishing resources,” the ministry stated in a press release on Tuesday.
The Norwegian trade and fisheries ministry claimed it had thus already issued a cod quota to the EU for 17,885 tons for this year. The EU, however, is claiming rights to issue much larger cod quotas, totalling the 28,431 tons.
The ministry stressed that Great Britain’s withdrawal from the EU meant that its historic fishing rights and quota in the Svalbard zone “can no longer form a basis” for the quota to the EU. It was therefore subtracted before the EU’s quota was calculated.
Negotiations continue between Norway, the EU and Great Britain regarding fishing agreements for 2021. “These negotiations will determine the total quotas for dividing up the fishing stocks and settling access rights to each country’s zones and quota exchanges,” according to the ministry.
Disputes between Norway, the EU and EU member nations have arisen earlier over Norway’s claims to the waters around Svalbard, not least over trapping of snow crabs. Norway prevailed in that conflict but has been been accused of being most interested in retaining rights to possible energy or mineral interests under the seafloor, but that’s been consistently rejected by Norway.
Ingebrigtsen won support on Tuesday from Geir Ulfstein of the University of Oslo’s center for research on international courts’ legitimacy. He told VG that it’s up to Norway to decide on quotas in the Svalbard zone.
“The EU can have an opinion about what they have rights to, but it’s Norway that decides and it’s Norway that handles this,” Ulfstein told VG. He said the current conflict is a consequence of Brexit and the EU quotas: “The EU and Great Britain need to agree, but Norway decides, there’s no doubt about that.”