EU snow crab fishermen illicitly expelled from Barents Sea and Svalbard

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Industry Database

Approximately 19 large boats from several EU countries remain tied up in port out of fear of being arrested for fishing snow crab in the Barents Sea and Svalbard waters.

This is due to some being arrested by the Norwegian authorities who refuse to recognise the legitimate right of EU vessels to sustainable and legally operate in this specific area.

Despite EU vessels being authorised to fish for snow crab in the Barents Sea and Svalbard waters since 2013, a recent Norwegian court ruling has declared Norwegian restrictions illegitimate and contrary to the international obligations undertaken by Norway.

Javier Garat, president of Europêche, explained: “The legal fishery conducted by EU fishermen has been harshly interrupted, forcing EU authorised crabber vessels to remain at ports, while Norwegian vessels continue catching snow crab.”

He added: “We hope that the Norwegian court ruling will act as a wake-up call to the attitude of Norway, which must respect its international obligations. Many EU jobs and families directly depend on this activity and have no other alternative.

We urge the European Commission services, together with Member States, to urgently find solutions to allow snow crab fishermen to resume their legal activities, since EU operators are losing an average of €1m per month each.”

The snow crab fishery is a new growing business in these waters since it is considered an invasive species and becoming an important player in the Barents Sea ecosystem.

That would explain Russia and Norway’s efforts to limit the participation of EU vessels in this fishery despite the fact that it is conducted in international waters regulated by the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission.

Similar discriminatory situation occurs in Svalbard waters, where although Norway holds full sovereignty over the area, this is conditional to equal access and treatment of certain EU Member States signatories of the Svalbard Treaty of 1920.

Mr Garat continued: “This situation also calls into question the weight of EU Regulations that do not seem to be able to protect the sector, which obviously has to abide by them. Besides imposing obligations, EU Regulations must provide legal certainty and guarantee the rights granted to EU operators allowing them to exploit snow crab in the Barents Sea and Svalbard waters.”

“The EU assumes a responsibility towards the operator when issuing a fishing license. The European Commission must ensure and enforce the legitimate rights of the Member States, the signatory countries of the Svalbard Treaty and beneficiaries of the Council’s Regulation (EU) 2017/127, for fishing the snow crab, in the Svalbard waters,” he concluded.

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