Opportunities and Challenges in the North
3.3 The Fisheries Protection Zone around Svalbard
The Fisheries Protection Zone is a 200 nautical mile zone of fisheries jurisdiction around the Svalbard archipelago. It was established on 3 June 1977 pursuant to the Act of 17 December 1976 relating to the Economic Zone of Norway.
Norway exercises full and absolute sovereignty over Svalbard, in conformity with the provisions set out in the Treaty concerning Spitsbergen of 9 February 1920. Norway’s sovereignty over Svalbard has moreover been recognised by the whole international community. As a coastal state Norway has the right under the modern law of the sea to establish a 200-mile economic zone around the archipelago and to exercise fisheries jurisdiction in the zone. All Norwegian legislation and regulatory and other measures in the Fisheries Protection Zone around Svalbard are fully in accordance with the rights and obligations that Norway, as a coastal state, has under international law.
In accordance with the existing law of the sea, vessels and nationals of other states that are fishing in the Fisheries Protection Zone must comply with the management measures and conditions set out in the legislation and regulatory measures of the coastal state and must comply with that state’s enforcement measures. Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982, Norway, as a coastal state, must ensure that the living resources in the Fisheries Protection Zone are not overharvested. Under the Convention the authority to implement measures in this respect rests solely with the coastal state.
There are different views on the geographical scope of the Treaty concerning Spitsbergen. Norway has always based itself on the position that the treaty, in accordance with its wording, only applies to the archipelago and the territorial waters. However, in relation to potential economic interests, other states have claimed that the treaty also applies to maritime areas beyond the territorial waters. It is inter alia against this background that Norway chose in 1977 until further notice to establish a fisheries protection zone rather than a full economic zone. One of the purposes of the zone was to ensure the protection and sound management of the living resources, since this is one of the most important nursery areas for important fish stocks.
The rules governing the Fisheries Protection Zone are formulated in such a way that they would not be in conflict with those of the Treaty concerning Spitsbergen even if the latter had applied to the Fisheries Protection Zone. The regulatory measures for fisheries are based on objective protection and management needs and take into account any previous foreign fishing patterns in the area. Thus even though Norway maintains a legal right to reserve fishing in the zone exclusively for Norwegian fishermen, its management practices are non-discriminatory.
The Norwegian management measures in the Fisheries Protection Zone have generally been complied with in practice. However, there is not an international consensus on Norway’s right to regulate fishing and exercise jurisdiction over the continental shelf in this area. For example, Iceland and Russia have disputed such a right on grounds of principle, referring to the provisions of the Treaty concerning Spitsbergen. It is maintained that the treaty and its provisions concerning the equal rights of ships and nationals of all the contracting parties to engage in fishing also apply beyond the territorial waters of the archipelago, and that Norway may not impose restrictions or take necessary enforcement measures. This view is not in keeping with the rules of the international law of the sea, the Treaty concerning Spitsbergen or fundamental principles for responsible resource management.
A credible and predictable exercise of Norwegian jurisdiction in the maritime areas around Svalbard in keeping with the rules of international law is necessary to promote stability and, in the longer term, to promote common understanding with all states concerned. As a coastal state, Norway has a special responsibility for the management of the living resources in these areas. The Norwegian authorities take this responsibility seriously, and will continue to practise sound resource management in accordance with Norway’s obligations and rights under international law through appropriate regulations, as well as necessary control and enforcement measures. This is also in keeping with Norway’s declared aim to combat illegal and unreported fishing, which is one of the most serious threats to sound resource management and is highly detrimental to efforts to ensure conservation and management of living marine resources.
The Norwegian authorities are actively seeking to promote international co-operation on responsible resource management within the framework of the international law of the sea, primarily together with relevant coastal states with a view to adopting and implementing international regulatory measures for fish stocks in their entire area of distribution. The co-operation with Russia is particularly comprehensive in this regard.