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Norway fines Russian ship $28,000 for fish discards off Spitsbergen

August 18, 19:04 UTC+3 OSLO
The trawler was arrested on suspicion of throwing out fish overboard, which is prohibited by the Norwegian legislation
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OSLO, August 18. /TASS/. The Russian fishing vessel M-0239 Melkart detained by Norwegian authorities for fish discards in the so-called fish protected area near the Arctic archipelago Spitsbergen has been fined 230,000 Norwegian krone (about $28,000), a spokeswoman for Norway’s prosecutor’s office said on Thursday.

The fine was slapped against the vessel’s captain and ship-owner, Murman Seafood Company. The captain agreed with the fine and the police of the Norwegian town of Tromso received a payment guarantee from the vessel’s agent, after which the ship was released and resumed fishing.

"Murman Seafood was fined 200,000 krone and the trawler’s captain 30,000 krone for illegal fish discards and failure to notify the Norwegian authorities of fishing in the fish protected zone near Svalbard [Spitzbergen] and of catch volumes. In this case, the fish catches were not confiscated but, proceeding from their estimated value, the sum of the penalty for the ship-owner was determined," the spokeswoman for the Norwegian prosecutor’s office said.

Murman Seafood Deputy CEO Alexander Borisov told TASS earlier on Thursday that "at present, there are no claims to the vessel." It is not clear so far whether the company will try to dispute the penalty. In similar cases, Norwegian courts numerously passed rulings in favor of ship-owners from Russia.

Spitsbergen area

The Melkart was detained inside the so-called fish protected area around Spitsbergen. Russian sailors have the right to fish there but, from Oslo’s viewpoint, the Norwegian fishing rules, including the provisions on fish discards, apply to them. These rules strongly prohibit from throwing out fish overboard and oblige captains to submit documentation on the entry into and exit from the zone, on catch volumes, etc.

The Russian diplomacy does not share this view, noting that the legal regime of these waters is regulated by international law on the open sea. Moscow has numerously stated it is inadmissible to detain Russian fishing vessels inside the fish protected area around Spitsbergen and insisted that measures to offenders should be taken by the Russian authorities on representation by the Norwegian side.

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.

The Joint Russian-Norwegian Fisheries Commission deals with coordinating disputable conceptions and elaborating a common instruction for both countries for fishing control in the Barents and the Norwegian Seas. The Commission held its latest session in October 2015 in Astrakhan and the next meeting will be held in Norway this autumn.

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.

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.

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