EU-Nor­way crab row could fuel oil ten­sions in Arc­tic

‘No coun­try wants to give up resources’

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

On the face of it, a re­lent­less bat­tle be­tween the Euro­pean Union and Nor­way in a re­mote part of the Arc­tic is about snow crabs. But the real fight may go beyond who gets to catch the mod­est crus­taceans around Sval­bard, a unique Nor­we­gian ar­chi­pel­ago in the Bar­ents Sea. What is re­ally at stake is oil, some ex­perts say, and a com­ing race for the com­mod­ity of which there is a lot in the po­lar re­gion.

“No coun­try wants to give up resources without re­ceiv­ing any­thing in re­turn. That is the prin­ci­ple here too,” Nor­we­gian Fish­eries Min­is­ter Per Sand­berg tells AFP. Nor­way, which is not a mem­ber of the EU, has slammed Brus­sels for au­tho­riz­ing Euro­pean ves­sels from mainly Baltic na­tions to fish for crabs in the Sval­bard area, say­ing it vi­o­lates its na­tional sovereignty.

A Lat­vian ship has al­ready paid the price. In Jan­uary, a ship called “The Sen­a­tor” was in­ter­cepted by Nor­we­gian coast guards while crab fish­ing around Sval­bard, and re­cently re­ceived a hefty fine. “What hap­pened is to­tally new,” says Sand­berg. “The EU is un­abashed to make this kind of a de­ci­sion without con­sult­ing us.” The EU and Nor­way’s con­flict­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the 1920 Sval­bard Treaty signed in Paris are at the heart of the prob­lem.

The treaty rec­og­nizes Nor­way’s “full and ab­so­lute sovereignty,” but gives the sig­na­tory na­tions an equal right to economic ac­tiv­i­ties on Sval­bard and its ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters. The core is­sue is to agree on the ge­o­graph­i­cal scope of the treaty and how far all sig­na­tory states ben­e­fit from an equal ac­cess to resources. With a strict in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the treaty, Oslo says the agree­ment ap­plies only to the 12-mile lim­its of the ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters sur­round­ing Sval­bard and not any fur­ther. But Brus­sels has a more loose in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the treaty and says it cov­ers 200 miles around Sval­bard, in line with the con­cept of an economic zone that did not ex­ist when the treaty was signed.

Oil in the line of sight

The snow crab, first recorded in the Bar­ents Sea in 1996, is an in­va­sive, and more im­por­tantly, a seden­tary species as it lives in per­ma­nent con­tact with the seabed. This means that the rules that ap­ply to snow crabs are more sim­i­lar to oil than to fish­ing. The crab dis­pute could cre­ate a “prece­dent” that “would have im­pli­ca­tions for oil and gas,” warns Har­ald Sakarias Brovig Hansen, a re­searcher at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute.

“We fear a domino ef­fect. If an ac­tor is rec­og­nized as hav­ing the right to fish for snow crabs in ac­cor­dance with the treaty, then nu­mer­ous oth­ers, will prob­a­bly come and claim a share of the cake,” he says, re­fer­ring to oil. The cake could prove to be very ap­pe­tiz­ing as the Nor­we­gian Petroleum Direc­torate in April dou­bled its es­ti­mates of hy­dro- car­bon re­serves in the Nor­we­gian part of the Bar­ents Sea. A large amount of the 17.7 bil­lion bar­rels in the re­gion could be in south­east­ern Sval­bard, ac­cord­ing to the direc­torate. Oil com­pa­nies are lurk­ing. Nor­way has al­ready granted ex­plo­ration li­censes that ex­tend in the con­tentious area and the na­tional en­ergy gi­ant Sta­toil, al­ways push­ing fur­ther north, plans to drill in the area this sum­mer.

This drilling in the Korpf­jell prospect, con­sid­ered highly promis­ing, could ir­ri­tate the other sig­na­to­ries of the Sval­bard Treaty and lead them to claim an equal ac­cess to oil. “I think snow crab is a trial bal­loon,” says Per Arne Tot­land, an au­thor and ex­pert on Sval­bard is­sues.

“In this case, Rus­sia, the United States, the EU and China share a com­mon in­ter­est in ob­tain­ing the widest ac­cess to the resources that the treaty could give them.”

In a ges­ture of con­cil­i­a­tion to the EU, Oslo has pro­posed re­serv­ing some of its snow crab quota — 500 tons out of a to­tal of 4,000 tons — to other Euro­pean coun­tries in re­turn for fish quo­tas. But the EU has re­fused the pro­posal be­cause ac­cept­ing the deal would strengthen the Nor­we­gian take on the treaty. Brus­sels wants “a prac­ti­cal ar­range­ment with Nor­way that would al­low the con­tin­u­a­tion of fish­ing ac­tiv­i­ties for snow crab, without giv­ing up the EU’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the 1920 (treaty),” Euro­pean Com­mis­sion spokesman En­rico Brivio said.


SPITSBERGEN: This file photo taken on July 23, 2015 shows a view of the Krone­breen Glacier, on the Spitsbergen is­land, Nor­we­gian ar­chi­pel­ago of Sval­bard, north­ern Nor­way.

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