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Russian trawler arrested by Norway near Arctic archipelago Spitsbergen

August 17, 19:13 UTC+3 OSLO
Norway unilaterally extended the status of the so-called fish protected zone to the 200-mile water area around Spitsbergen in 1977
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The Arctic archipelago Spitsbergen

The Arctic archipelago Spitsbergen

© AP Photo/David Cheskin, Pool

OSLO, August 17. /TASS/. The Russian fishing vessel M-0239 Melkart was arrested by a Norwegian coast guard boat within the 200-mile fish protected zone around the Arctic archipelago Spitsbergen, the coast guard’s press service told TASS on Wednesday.

"I can confirm that the Russian trawler was arrested within the 200-mile zone around Svalbard [Spitsbergen] due to fish thrown overboard," a spokesman for the coast guard’s press service said.

Despite the archipelago’s special international status, Norway unilaterally extended the status of the so-called fish protected zone to the 200-mile water area around Spitsbergen in 1977, which, as Russia believes, contradicts the provisions of the 1920 Spitsbergen Treaty.

Russian sailors have the right to fish inside this zone and fishing rules common for both countries have been agreed. However, Russia does not recognize the Norwegian inspectors’ right to exercise control inside this zone and arrest Russian vessels in case of the breach of the Norwegian fishing legislation and oblige their captains to submit documentation on entry into and exit from the zone, fishing volumes, etc.

The Russian embassy in Oslo is not commenting on the situation.

In wait for a penalty

The Melkart on whose board the Norwegian inspectors climbed is currently at sea. In the past few years, the Russian authorities have secured some concessions from the Norwegian side. These concessions help resolve most disputable situations without delivering a non-compliant vessel to the nearest port. However, it is not quite clear yet how events will develop in this case. In compliance with the standard procedure, the coast guard has already transferred the case to the police of the Polar town of Tromso, which is expected to impose a penalty on the ship owner, if the fact of the violation is recognized.

"By now, I have not yet received all the necessary papers on the incident from the coast guard. That is why, I can’t comment in detail on the situation," an employee of the Norwegian Prosecutor’s Office told TASS.

Problem of fish discards

Under the Norwegian fishing legislation, the practice of throwing away fish caught in fishing nets is fully banned and large penalties are envisaged for violators of this ban.

Efforts are taken both in Russia and Norway to fight fish discards. The fishermen’s widespread practice of throwing away excessively small and cheap fishes or fishes outside a vessel’s fishing quota throws into question the possibility of accurately registering catches and complicates the keeping of records of fish species, to say nothing about the environmental aspect of this issue.

Nonetheless, there is no single notion of "fish discards" for the two countries yet, which regularly leads to disputable situations due to different interpretations and causes troubles for Russian fishermen.

Norwegian inspectors sometimes treat it excessively broadly, for example, by imposing penalties on the captains of Russian trawlers for the fish that had fallen out of a ruptured trawl. In this situation, the matter is complicated by the fact that in Russia’s opinion the Norwegian law on fish discards should not apply to the waters around Spitsbergen.

Archipelago’s status

The Arctic archipelago of Spitsbergen called by the Norwegians as Svalbard is located between the 76th and the 80th parallels. The archipelago was placed under Norway’s sovereignty after World War One on condition that it kept a special international status.

The Spitsbergen Treaty signed in 1920 sealed Norway’s sovereignty over the archipelago. At the same time, the Treaty’s signatory states comprising over 40 countries have equal rights to the development of the archipelago’s natural resources.

Despite this, only Norway and Russia maintain their economic presence on the archipelago. However, Russia and Norway interpret differently the treaty’s provisions on the status of waters and the shelf around the archipelago.

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