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Norway’s Supreme Court to hear Arctic snow crab case affecting oil exploration

On Tuesday, 24 January, the Supreme Court of Norway heard arguments about whether EU ships can fish for snow crabs off Arctic islands north Norway. This case could decide who can explore for oil and minerals in the region.

It is unclear whether EU vessels can capture snow crabs. Their meat is highly prized by South Korean and Japanese gourmets.

A Latvian fisheries company applied for a fishing license to capture the species in the non EU country in 2019. The refusal was due to the fact that only Norwegian vessels can do so.

The Latvian company will argue Tuesday that it can under the 1920 Svalbard Treaty. The treaty gives Norway sovereignty over Arctic islands, subject to the conditions that other signatories have full rights to their territorial waters.


Oeystein Jensen, Oslo’s Fridtjof Nansen Institute says Tuesday’s case could have profound consequences.

He stated that the Supreme Court must believe the Svalbard Treaty applies if it is to be believed. It will also include oil, gas, and minerals. It’s either all or nothing.

The four-day session will see fifteen Supreme Court judges hear arguments. This is a clear sign of the importance of the case for Norway. A majority of the cases are decided by a panel of five members.


A similar Latvian fisheries firm tried to fish off Svalbard with an EU license. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled EU fishermen must ask Oslo permission for snow crab fishing.

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