EU stung after Norway won case to protect its fishing waters from Brussels

Brexit: Expert expresses concern for fishing industry future

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Despite Downing Street calling a “mutual compromise”, it does seem Prime Minister Boris Johnson capitulated on one of the most contentious areas of Brexit trade talks: fishing rights. The UK wanted any fishing agreement to be separate from the trade deal with access negotiated annually in a similar fashion to Norway’s agreement with the bloc. Norway is an independent coastal state, with the rights and responsibilities under international law associated with that status. Stocks shared with the EU are managed through annual bilateral negotiations. Each autumn these talks set total allowable catches on the basis of scientific advice.

This contrasts starkly with the position of the UK fishing industry within the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy – something the EU wanted to maintain at all costs.

In the end, the UK agreed to a further five-and-a-half years of “predictability” for fishing communities, with the UK leaving the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Stock quotas for UK fishers will increase over a five-year timeframe, incrementally between now and 2026.

This means Britain will fish just over 66 percent of UK waters – in stark contrast with Iceland, which catches 90 percent of its own fish.

During the transition, EU fishing vessels will still have full access to fish in UK waters and after that, negotiations will be annual just like the ones between Iceland and the bloc.

However, the EU will be able to retaliate with tariffs if Britain refuses to grant it access, meaning London will never be fully in control of its waters.

Despite being outside the bloc, even Norway had to to fight tooth and nail in order to protect its waters.

In 2017, a dispute was under development over fishing rights on snow crabs in the area around the Arctic archipelago.

The Norwegian Coast Guard arrested the Latvian crabber “Senator” on suspicion of an illegal catch of snow crabs on the Norwegian shelf in the Svalbard fishery protection zone.

EU authorities had granted 16 vessels permission to engage in snow crab fishing in the Svalbard waters.

Norway’s former fisheries minister Per Sandberg told VG: “This is about the Norwegian continental shelf, an area which is under Norwegian sovereignty.

“If there will be more ships in the area, they will be arrested.”

The minister confirmed the two sides would have sat down for talks on how to find a compromise.

At the same time, he stressed: “We will not give them a single crab.”

A compromise was not found and two years later, the Norwegian Supreme Court concluded that snow crab is a so-called sedentary species and that Norwegian authorities consequently have exclusive rights to manage the crab stocks in the waters around the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

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The court was responding to an appeal by the Latvian fishing firm against fines imposed in 2018.

At issue was whether the snow crab – whose meat is a delicacy for gourmets from Canada to Japan – was a sedentary species living on the seabed or moves around like fish, and who gets to control the stocks.

The court agreed with Norway’s argument that snow crabs are sedentary, like corals or oysters, and that as such under the UN Law of the Sea they are a resource belonging to the continental shelf of Norway.

Had Norway lost the case, the EU could have staked a claim over the snow crab and it could have been harder for Oslo to secure its claim over potential oil and gas resources.

Chief public prosecutor Lars Fause said at the time: “For the Norwegian coast guard this is a big relief – they can arrest any ships fishing illegally in the Svalbard area.”

A lower Norwegian court in 2018 had upheld Norway’s view that only Oslo has the authority to issue snow crab licences.

But the Latvian firm, SIA North Star, argued that the crabs were not sedentary because they scurry around and so should be regulated under regional fisheries accords signed by parties including the European Union and Russia.

It argued that it had a valid EU permit.

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SIA North Star also argued that Norway is obliged under an international 1920 treaty to allow other nations access to the waters around Svalbard.

That treaty grants sovereignty to Norway but gives other signatories rights to engage in commercial activities on and around Svalbard. Russia, for instance, runs a coal mine on Svalbard.

But Oslo said rights to exploit resources around Svalbard extended only to a narrow band of just 12 nautical miles offshore.

The court also ruled that snow crab catches by the Latvian firm were illegal under Norwegian law, irrespective of the Svalbard Treaty.

Oeystein Jensen, a researcher in international law at the independent Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo, said: ”Norway is tightening its grip in the Arctic.

“The court clarifies that if you are going to fish, or search for oil and gas, you need permission from the Norwegian authorities.”

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