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Home* News and Stories → Cod war bet­ween Nor­way and EU about to esca­la­te

Cod war bet­ween Nor­way and EU about to esca­la­te

A new “cod war”, a con­flict about fishing rights, has been lur­king in the Barents Sea alre­a­dy for some time. The pro­blem is a dis­agree­ment about cod quo­tas for Euro­pean fishing ships in the 200 mile zone around Sval­bard. The mat­ter is com­plex.

The pro­blem: EU fishing quo­tas after the Brexit

On the sur­face, the pro­blem appears to be new quo­tas for Euro­pean fishing ves­sels that Nor­way has set after the Brexit by deduc­ting the Bri­tish quo­ta from the Euro­pean allo­wan­ce. The new Euro­pean quo­ta amounts to 17,885 tons, accor­ding to NRK, while Bri­tish fishing ves­sels are affor­ded a quo­ta of 5,000 tons. The EU, howe­ver, is not hap­py about this new quo­ta and reac­ted by allo­ca­ting them­sel­ves a quo­ta of 28,431 tons, some­thing that is not accept­ed by Nor­way. The EU accu­sed the cur­rent Nor­we­gi­an fishery poli­cy of being arbi­tra­ry and dis­cri­mi­na­to­ry.

Both sides have now ver­bal­ly rig­ged up, both say­ing they are pre­pared to take steps as neces­sa­ry to take care of their rights. Nor­way has made clear that coast­guard and poli­ce are rea­dy to take the usu­al steps in case they find fishing ves­sels with ille­gal catch in their waters, inclu­ding con­fis­ca­ti­on of ships and cat­ches and arre­sta­ti­on of crews. It was Lars Fau­se, chief pro­se­cu­tor in north Nor­way, who said this. Later this year, Fau­se will fol­low Sys­sel­mann Kjers­tin Askholt in Lon­gye­ar­by­en as the first one to bear the gen­der-neu­tral title Sys­sel­mes­ter.

Cod, Spitsbergen

Yum­my cod taken in Isfjord.
The con­flict bet­ween the EU and Nor­way is, howe­ver, about other volu­mes.

Key pro­blem: the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty

But the essen­ti­al pro­blem is hid­den in the para­graphs of the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty. The second artic­le of the trea­ty gua­ran­tees that “Ships and natio­nals of all the High Con­trac­ting Par­ties shall enjoy equal­ly the rights of fishing and hun­ting in the ter­ri­to­ries spe­ci­fied in Artic­le 1 and in their ter­ri­to­ri­al waters.” The pro­blem is the defi­ni­ti­on of “ter­ri­to­ri­al waters”. The Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty was signed in 1920. Until then, most count­ries loo­ked upon coas­tal waters within 3 miles (a gun shot) as their ter­ri­to­ri­al waters. It was not befo­re 1921 that govern­ments began to include the waters as far out as 12 miles into their own ter­ri­to­ry. Until today, this is not ever­y­whe­re as cle­ar­ly defi­ned as one might think or wish, but as far as this, the­re is con­sen­sus in the area in ques­ti­on: ever­y­bo­dy agrees that the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty is valid within the 12 mile zone (ter­ri­to­ri­al waters) around Sval­bard, mea­ning that fishing ships of all trea­ty par­ties enjoy equal rights the­re.

The pro­blem starts when it comes to the exclu­si­ve eco­no­mic zone (EEZ), which stret­ches as far as 200 miles from the coast. Hence, the EEZ is much lar­ger and includes lar­ge and valuable bio­lo­gi­cal resour­ces. The EEZ was, howe­ver, not defi­ned in inter­na­tinal law befo­re 1982, when the United Nati­ons Con­ven­ti­on on the Law of the Sea was con­cluded.

Based on artic­le 1 of the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty, Nor­way claims “full and abso­lu­te sove­reig­n­ty” also of the lar­ge exclu­si­ve eco­no­mic zone (200 mile zone), but insists at the same time that artic­le 2 ot the same trea­ty, which gives all trea­ty par­ties equal rights, is not valid the­re. In con­trast, Nor­way claims exclu­si­ve rights in the EEZ. It does not real­ly sur­pri­se that the­re are tho­se trea­ty par­ties who do not agree with this posi­ti­on.

Coastguard, Spitsbergen

The coast­guard gua­ran­tees Nor­we­gi­an sove­reig­n­ty in the waters around Spits­ber­gen. Unfri­end­ly encoun­ters of coast­guard ves­sels and EU fishing ves­sels may be coming up.

The Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty and the “exclu­si­ve eco­no­mic zone (EEZ)”

Wha­te­ver one’s posi­ti­on is on the ques­ti­on wether or not the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty and its fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of equal rights and access (non-dis­cri­mi­na­ti­on) is to be appli­ed in the EEZ, the­re can hard­ly be any doubts that fishing ves­sels from the EU or third count­ries need to respect Nor­we­gi­an eco­no­mic­al rights in the­se waters. The ques­ti­on is, howe­ver, how Nor­way may balan­ce the quo­tas that are allo­ca­ted to for­eign fishing ves­sels rela­ti­ve to their natio­nal quo­tas: accor­ding to the prin­ci­ple of non-dis­cri­mi­na­ti­on (if artic­le 2 of the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty is to be appli­ed) or exclu­si­ve­ly.

A com­plex mat­ter. What is cle­ar­ly miss­ing is an aut­ho­ri­ty accapt­ed by all sides that could deci­de on such mat­ters of inter­pre­ta­ti­on regar­ding the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty. Nor­way insists to pos­sess the exclu­si­ve aut­ho­ri­ty to such ques­ti­ons, but that is not accept­ed by Brussels.

While the­re is poli­ti­cal and juri­di­cal need for cla­ri­fi­ca­ti­on, both the Nor­we­gi­an coast­guard and Euro­pean fishing ves­sels are get­ting pre­pared and con­flicts are to be feared. The stag­ge­red obser­ver keeps wat­ching and won­de­ring.

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last modification: 2021-04-22 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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