Norway & russia expand joint research in the barents

Norway and Russia have been cooperating on fisheries research in the Barents Sea for more than 50 years. The latest agreement between the two countries’ research institutes IMR and PINRO will provide even more impetus to effective fisheries management in the resource rich and productive Arctic waters.

This history of fisheries cooperation between Russia and Norway date back to the 1950s, when the two countries first institutionalised their bilateral cooperation in the fisheries sector within the field of marine research.

During that time, Russia’s Knipovich Polar Research Institute of Marine Fisheries and Oceanography (PINRO) and the Bergen-based Institute of Marine Research (IMR), have worked jointly to provide the scientific data that is used to help sustainably harvest their stocks of cod, haddock, capelin and Greenland halibut. The institutes also provide advice on standardization of fishing gears between the two fishing nations and the closing of areas where there are too many small fish present.

According to Reidar Toresen, IMR research director, there is no such cooperation with any other marine research institution in the world. Over the decades, the two sides have increased their collaboration gradually via annual meetings every March. One of the more significant changes was the establishment of harvest control rules about 5-7 years ago.

“In the Barents Sea, there are only two parties…and the resources are very valuable, so we have been forced very early on to work together,” he said.

Better Data Exchange
Under the latest revision to the scientific cooperation in 2011, the two sides have outlined a number of key areas for further collaboration. One of the more significant is that for the first time, Norwegian researchers may be able to send over their data to the Russians for joint processing and analysis and theoretically vice versa. Prior to this, the Russians and Norwegians only analyzed data they collected together from joint surveys.

“The requirement is that should be scientists for both sides to work on the data,” said Toresen. “It’s a big step.”

Another proposed change is the harmonization of methods, both in the collection of biological data and how things are done. This would lead to a better integration of joint data and surveys. This is not just an issue between Russia and Norway but a problem in general in the research communities internationally, even in the European Union.

“This should be done in Europe as well, especially around the North Sea,” said Toresen. “Not much is standardized. They collect and sample data in their own way.”

A third achievement with the new agreement is that it goes one step further in allowing exchange of research specialists. According to Harald Gjøsæther, an IMR researcher, there have been more exchanges in the past on each other’s vessels, but less on land. The new agreement hopes to simplify the process and make it more attractive for more and longer research exchanges in each other’s country.

Better Quota Advice
The tighter research efforts by the two institutes will form the basis for better quota advice to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which determines how much each country are allowed to fish in the Barents Sea. The Joint Norwegian-Russian Fisheries Commission, established in the 1970s, is responsible for ensuring sustainable management of harvest of cod, haddock, capelin and Greenland halibut, which Norway and Russia manage jointly in the Barents Sea.

According the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries, the joint commission has established quotas for joint stocks estimated to have a firsthand value of almost NOK 10 billion and helped put a stop to illegal and unreported fishing of cod and haddock in the Barents Sea.

Some of the commission’s most significant achievements during 2008-2011 include the opening of fishery on Greenland halibut from 2010, the adoption of a Russian-Norwegian temporary simplified procedure for issuing licenses for vessels fishing in each other’s zones, strengthening of the scientific cooperation between Norwegian and Russian marine research institutions that allows mutual access for research vessels, and the launch of their new information site www.jointfish.com.

“At the moment stocks in the Barents Sea are at an all time high,” said Lisbeth Berg- Hansen, Norway’s fisheries minister, at the 40th session of the Joint Norwegian-Russian Fisheries Commission in Kaliningrad in October 2011. “This is an excellent point of departure for this year’s (2011) meeting and illustrates how crucial it is to have stable management regimes and trustful cooperation.”

Tighter Russian Relations
The tighter scientific relations follow on the heels of improved political ties between the two nations. The Russian and Norwegian foreign ministers signed the historic treaty on maritime delimitation and cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean in 2010 and ratified the agreement in July 2011, resolving what for several decades had been the most important outstanding issue between Norway and Russia.

The treaty establishes the boundary between Norway and Russia, but also contains provisions that ensure the continuation of the extensive and fruitful Norwegian-Russian fisheries cooperation, as well as provisions concerning cooperation on the exploitation of any petroleum deposits that extend across the maritime line of delineation.

The Joint Russian-Norwegian Fisheries Commission is one of the most institutionalized forums of bilateral cooperation between Norway and Russia, and probably the most well developed bilateral fisheries cooperation in the world, according to Arne Røksund, secretary general for the Norwegian Ministry for Fisheries.

“With the agreement on demarcation of maritime space between Norway and Russia, the Joint Russian-Norwegian Fisheries Commission will resume annual negotiations under a more predictable framework than ever before,” said Røksund. “In dividing the previously disputed waters of 175,000 square kilometres into roughly two equal parts, we open up new prospects for cooperation.”

To learn more, read “The Barents Sea: Ecosystem, Resources, Management: Half a Century of Russian - Norwegian Cooperation," by Tore Jakobsen and Vladimir K. Ozhigin (Publisher Tapir Academic Press, January 2012).

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