The European Union is planning to award 20 licenses for snow crab fishing near Norway’s Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, in violation of a ruling by the Norwegian Supreme Court.
According to Norway’s national broadcaster NRK, the bloc may unilaterally grant eleven licenses to Latvia, four to Lithuania, three to Poland, and one each to Estonia and Spain.
The EU argues that Norway, which is not part of the European Union, is in violation of the Svalbard Treaty because it discriminates between Norwegian and foreign fishing vessels. The 1920 international agreement guarantees Norway’s sovereignty over Svalbard, while providing opportunities for signatory countries to conduct business and fishing there. It also cements Svalbard’s status as a demilitarized zone.
Norway’s Fisheries Minister Harald Tom Nesvik insists that no one is allowed to fish for snow crab on the Norwegian continental shelf without a permit from Oslo.
“This is standard procedure. They issue these licenses to the countries that have requested them. But the EU-issued licenses don’t matter. If you want to catch snow crab, the quota from Norway applies,” Nesvik said.
According to him, the fisheries minister is not afraid of any physical contact between vessels in the Svalbard zone ahead of the fishing season. “It would be very stupid, because then they will be arrested for breaking the law. The EU is very much aware of the fact that the quotas are issued by Norway. These are licenses without significance.”
Norway believes it has exclusive rights to catch snow crab in the fisheries protection zone around the archipelago. Last winter, the Norwegian Supreme Court rejected an appeal from a Latvian shipping company. Member of the European Parliament Jarosław Wałęsa, from Poland, suggested earlier that EU fishermen are being treated like criminals in Norway.
Snow crabs reside in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans, preferring the deep, cold water conditions of these seas. In the Barents Sea, it was first observed by Russian scientists in 1996. Since then, a large stock has established itself around the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard as well.