On Thursday, 16 February, members of the Saeima Foreign Affairs Committee met with representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the European Union Crab Fishing Association to discuss the case of a Latvian snow crab fishing boat arrested in Norway. Latvia hopes to find a diplomatic solution, although international litigation cannot be excluded.
Ojārs Ēriks Kalniņš, Chair of the Saeima Foreign Affairs Committee, announced the plans of the Committee members to discuss this issue with H.E. Steinar Egil Hagen, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Norway, to Latvia in the nearest future.
Representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture reported that the situation has not changed much since the arrest of the boat on 16 January, i.e. a monetary fine is imposed, which the owners of the boat refuse to pay. The Latvian side has sent two notes to Norway requesting the boat to be released, on the account that it was fishing in Svalbard in compliance with the 1920 Paris Treaty and the European Regulation adopted in December last year. Furthermore, Latvian Minister of Agriculture has sent a letter to the EU Commissioner for Fisheries requesting assistance in resolving this case. The European Commission is currently drafting a note, which, Latvia hopes, also includes a request to immediately release the boat.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that yesterday the foreign ministers of both countries had a telephone conversation about the issue. Also the European External Action Service has been notified about the case.
Representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture pointed out that the European Commission has been requested to introduce a compensation mechanism to mitigate the financial losses incurred by arrested boats, which amount to several thousands of euros for each day of standstill. The Ministry also pointed out that a prompt resolution of the case is hindered by the different interests of the EU member states in the fishing region in question.
Didzis Šmits, Head of the Crab Fishing Association, informed that the crew members are currently allowed to move freely in the territory of the port and they are staying on the boat. However, in the event of a failure to promptly resolve the situation, the crew might be forced to return home.
The conflict arose because Norway has a different interpretation on how snow crab fishing is permitted in this region. Basing its interpretation on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Norway considers that it holds exclusive rights to issue fishing permits. The Latvian vessel was fishing in Svalbard with a permit issued by Latvia based on the EU regulation, which provides that 11 Latvian fishing vessels have the right to fish in Svalbard. This was explained by the representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, who also noted that this is the first EU vessel to fish for snow crab in this region since the adoption of the regulation.
According to representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Cabinet of Ministers will follow-up on the situation before 7 March.
Saeima Press Service