In case affecting oil, Norway Supreme Court says EU ships cannot fish Arctic snow crab

  • Ruling has implications for oil, minerals
  • Non-EU Norway has sovereignty over Svalbard Arctic islands
  • State can sue Norway -expert

OSLO, March 20 (Reuters) - Norway's Supreme Court ruled on Monday that EU ships cannot fish for snow crab off the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic in a case also deciding who has the right to explore for oil and minerals in the region.

At stake was whether EU vessels had the right to catch snow crab, whose meat is considered a delicacy by gourmets in Japan and South Korea, in the same way as Norwegian vessels did.

But what is valid for the snow crab, a sedentary species living on the seabed, is also valid for oil, minerals and other resources, the Supreme Court ruled in a 2019 case.

A Latvian fisheries company, SIA North Star, applied to the non-EU country in 2019 for a fishing licence to catch the species, but was turned down on the basis that only Norwegian vessels can.

SIA North Star argued it had that right under the 1920 Svalbard Treaty, which grants Norway sovereignty over the Arctic islands with the condition that other signatories have access to their territorial waters.

"The company does not have the right to catch snow crab on the continental shelf outside Svalbard," the Supreme Court said in its verdict, which was unanimous.

If SIA North Star had won that right, it would have meant other states than Norway would have had the right of access to the natural resources on the continental shelf around Svalbard.

While the legal recourse for the fisheries company are now over, a state may bring a case against Norway, said Oeystein Jensen, a professor of international law at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo.

"It will continue as an international legal dispute in the sense that other states may not necessarily accept this as the final solution of this issue," Jensen told Reuters.

"It is a domestic court decision, (so) an international court can also hear this question at a later stage."

Reporting by Gwladys Fouche, editing by Terje Solsvik, Louise Heavens and Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Oversees news coverage from Norway for Reuters and loves flying to Svalbard in the Arctic, oil platforms in the North Sea, and guessing who is going to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Born in France and with Reuters since 2010, she has worked for The Guardian, Agence France-Presse and Al Jazeera English, among others, and speaks four languages.