The Svalbard Treaty of 1920 not only established Norway’s sovereignty over the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, it also ensured that the 45 signatories of the treaty, which includes many countries that today belong to the EU, would have equal rights to carry out business activities, including hunting and fishing, on the archipelago.
Norway, however, maintains that the commercial rights only apply on land and to roughly 22 kilometres of Svalbard’s territorial waters, but not to the continental shelf beyond, which is Norwegian.
The Norwegians thus contend that fishing licences that the EU has handed out for operation in those waters constitutes illegal fishing.
Law professor Geir Ulfstein, however, says Norway stands alone in its interpretation of the rights bestowed by the treaty.
“No country is yet to support Norway's view on this matter. Some have objected to Norway, others have refused,” Ulfstein, a professor of public law at the University of Oslo, told Nationen.
The issue is now coming to a head after the EU Commission in December granted 16 boats licences to fish for snow crab in an area that Norway believes it has jurisdiction over.
Just last week the Latvian fishing vessel ‘Senator’ was brought to Kirkenes by the Norwegian Coast Guard for crabbing in the Norwegian waters.
According to NRK Finnmark, local police concluded that the Latvian company had to pay a 150,000 kroner fine and roughly one million kroner worth of goods were seized.
The punishment was handed down despite the boat having permission from the EU to fish in the area.
Meanwhile, Norway’s largest snow crab company, Sea Gourmet in Båtsfjord, has not been operating in the disputed area since last year while talks between the EU and Norway move at a glacial pace.
The company says that around 50 jobs will be lost if a solution isn’t found soon.