Warns Against Ban of Russian Fishing Vessels from Norwegian Ports

Gro Holm

NRK reporter Gro Holm was in Ukraine when Russia invaded the country and has since then reported on the war from Ukraine. She has been a correspondent for NRK in Moscow for many years and will be going back there in September. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

"A port ban against Russian fishing vessels will be the final nail in the coffin for the bilateral cooperation with Russia in many ways," says NRK's Moscow correspondent, Gro Holm.

The sanctions against Russia which followed the invasion of Ukraine on the 24th of February will go down in history as the most comprehensive ever. The sanctions were imposed by the EU and quickly followed up by Norway and has been promptly implemented in Norwegian law.

On the 8th of May, the ban of Russian vessels from EU ports came into force.

The Norwegian government, however, chose to keep the ports open for Russian fishing vessels to protect the Norwegian-Russian fishery cooperation. Fishing boats can both land fish and change crew at Norwegian ports.

Criticizes the exception

The exception is not exempt from criticism and the Ukrainian government made it clear this summer that they want Norway to remove the exception.

The exception also faces criticism in Norway, most recently in an editorial in Adresseavisen, which calls it "disappointingly defencive by the government", with a reference to a well-known Russian oligarch who owns fishing vessels which now have free access to Norwegian ports.

The government wishes to protect the bilateral cooperation.

Deputy Director General in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Martin Sørby

Eva Grinde in Dagens Næringsliv writes that this should be morally and politically impossible. 

The exception is also seen as a security risk, and Chief of Defence of Norway Eirik Kristoffersen says to Dagens Næringsliv that there are obvious possibilities for espionage from fishing boats.

An ongoing assessment

The Norwegian government, however, has been clear that it is important for Norway to protect the fishery cooperation in the Barents Sea.

When the question was posed to the Deputy Director General in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Martin Sørby, during a debate at the Arendal week, he answered that the exception is under an ongoing assessment, and that it has been ever since it was implemented. 

"The government wishes to protect the bilateral cooperation around the joint management on fisheries in the North to the greatest extent possible, precisely to protect the fish stock," says Sørby.

Martin Sørby

Avdelingsdirektør og nestleder i Utenriksdepartementets rettsavdeling Martin Sørby har et særlig ansvar for sanksjoner og tok del i en debatt under Arendalsuka i regi av Advokatforeningen Hald & Co. (Foto: Trine Jonassen)

The Deputy Director General in the Ministry of Foreign Affair's Legal Department Martin Sørby has a particular responsibility regarding the sanctions and participated in a debate during the Arendal week which was organized by Wikhorn Rein law firm. (Photo: Trine Jonassen)

Can destroy the fishing fleet

NRK's correspondent in Russia, Gro Holm, warns against removing the exception for Russian trawlers, and says that it will destroy the last remnant of cooperation with Russia in the North.

Holm experienced for herself how complicated the situation can be when she participated in an inspection of Russian fishing vessels with the Norwegian Coast Guard in June.

"Many Russian fishers have boats that are not entirely Russian, but which are built partly in Norway and other places. They cannot go to Murmansk with their cargo, because that would entail paying customs and duties, and they cannot afford to do that," says Holm.

"It will ruin large parts of the Russian fishing fleet which fish on the Norwegian side and land their fish in Norwegian ports," says the NRK journalist, who participated in the debate with Sørby.

A ban will also lead to less stability in the supply of raw materials to Norwegian fish processing companies along the coast.

It is the most effective thing Norway can do right now.

Gro Holm, NRK's correspondent in Russia.

"There is also the political aspect of the fishery cooperation, so it (sanctions against Russian trawlers, editorial note) would be very difficult to implement," says Holm.

The Barents cooperation paralyzed

Today, there is no Barents cooperation between Russia and the other Barents states, except Norway and Russia's cooperation on fisheries, search, and rescue. Holm warns against removing one of the last remnant of cooperation with Russia.

"The people-to-people cooperation in the Barents region is difficult and they only have this left. It is not a cooperation right now, but they at least seem to have common fishery interests," says the Russian veteran.

"A port ban against Russian fishing vessels will be the final nail in the coffin for the bilateral cooperation with Russia in many ways and it will be very dramatic if Norway chooses to do so. However, it is simultaneously the most effective thing that Norway can do right now, that does not have to do with the EU agreement."

However, Gro Holm does not believe that the sanctions will stop the war in Ukraine.

Back to Russia

In a few days, when Gro Holm goes back to Russia for a period of three years for NRK, the hope is to cover the life behind the iron curtain as freely as possible. But for now, she knows very little about what she will be able to report back and which permissions she will be given.

The hope is to report on security and defence policies, also in the North, but even here she does not know what limitations will be laid upon her as a Norwegian journalist.

"I just have to try, but to make Interview appointments is a challenge because many Russians are afraid to speak to Western journalists now," says Holm and adds that she, among other things, will try to gain access to the parts of Donbas in eastern Ukraine, which is controlled by rebel troops, together with Russian forces."

"But that is also not easy," concludes NRK's new Russian correspondent.

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated into English by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.