The Northern Agreements with Norway: what’s the point?


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WHEREAS the previous two articles in this series, Do the Northern Agreements benefit Scotland and the UK? and The Northern Agreements: who benefits most? looked at what the EU and Norway have each got from their fisheries agreement and how it has played out for the UK, this one asks what the point of having such an agreement is.

A cynic might answer that the EU’s Norwegian Agreement is simply another facet of the unavowed principle that underpins EU fishery policy: we catch your fish. In the case of fish landed from the EU EEZ it is practised directly — the UK fleet lands far less than is landed from the UK EEZ — in the case of the Norwegian Agreement it’s more circuitous — the Norwegians catch our fish, the EU27 catches theirs. But the end result is the same.

Needless to say, this is not the avowed reason for the Northern Agreements and the one with Norway in particular. It is argued that agreements, such as this one, between neighbouring coastal states that allow each-others’ fleets to follow fish across EEZ boundaries and catch specified quantities of fish in the other party’s EEZ enhance the efficiency with which fishing resources are exploited. Instead of the fleets of each nation gearing up to fully exploit opportunities during times of plenty in their own EEZs, only to spend much of their time tied up in port when the fish are the other side of the boundary, the flexibility offered by such agreements allows more modestly scaled national fleets to spend more of their time at sea. The overall numbers of fishermen and boats are lower but each spends more time actually earning money.

That’s the theory. But if the agreements are fundamentally about flexibility and efficiency they should be two-way. If it’s about following the stock wherever it goes, then some of the time our boys should be fishing for this or that species or mix in their waters and some of the time theirs should be fishing in ours.

Is that what we find? For some species, yes. So, for example, on average, between 2010 and 2016, the EU fleet landed 48.6 kt of Herring from the Norwegian EEZ, whilst the Norwegians landed 55.2 kt from the EU EEZ. Not absolutely in balance but not far off and clearly two-way. A bit of give, a bit of take. But is it the norm?

Let’s take a look at some other species.


Table 1 applies the approach used elsewhere in this series and the parallel one on Brexit-Watch of comparing landings from an EEZ with landings by the corresponding fleet, in this case average annual landings of Cod between 2010 and 2016 from the Atlantic north 47°N, excluding the Skagerrak, Kattegat and Baltic, landed by the EU and Norwegian fleets.

Table 1: Breakdown of Cod landings from the NE Atlantic

If the agreement is really about flexibility and efficiency rather than about resource transfer then, since it is the only mechanism that allows the two parties to fish in each-others’ waters, what one of the parties lands should match what is landed from its EEZ. Does it?

This table shows that when the NE Atlantic EEZs of Norway and the EU are considered as a whole and compared with landings by their fleets from the same area what the deal has actually delivered is not flexibility through a bit of give and take but a transfer of resources in which one party — the EU — has been taking and one — Norway — giving. The EU landed 12.9 per cent of the Cod from this area but only 6.1 per cent was landed from its EEZ.

The absolute tonnages landed provide some pointers as to why the EU might have wanted such an arrangement.

Annual EU landings of Cod from the Norwegian EEZ over the period in question averaged 32.2 kt whilst total EU landings of Cod from the NE Atlantic averaged 57.2 kt over the period in question, which means that 56.3 per cent of the EU’s Cod landings from the NE Atlantic were landed from the Norwegian EEZ. If you add in EU landings of 56.1 kt from the Skagerrak, Kattegat and Baltic (where the UK is allocated no quota), the Norwegian EEZ still accounted for 28.4 per cent of total EU Cod landings. Without access to Norwegian waters, EU Cod landings would have been substantially lower than they were.

Norwegian landings from the EU EEZ, however, were a mere 2.3 kt, or just 7.1 per cent of what the EU took from the Norwegian EEZ. What’s more, average Norwegian landings of Cod totalled 394.5 kt and landings from the EU EEZ accounted for just 0.6 per cent of the total. Does Norway really need to catch any Cod from the EU EEZ? Aside from giving its boats a little bit of operational flexibility, do its Cod landings from the EU EEZ really matter to Norway?

So why would Norway agree to such a one-sided deal? Let’s look at what’s been going on with…


Table 2 repeats Table 1 but this time for Mackerel landings for the same years and area by the same fleets.

Table 2: Breakdown of Mackerel landings from the NE Atlantic

The boot here is on the other foot. Only 25.7 per cent of overall Mackerel landings were from the Norwegian EEZ but the Norwegian fleet landed 35.9 per cent of the total landed from the same area over the same period. Once again, what has been going on is not a bit of give and take but one party giving and the other taking; only this time it’s the other way round.

And then there’s…


Table 3 repeats Table 1 but this time for Blue Whiting landings for the same years and area by the same fleets.

Table 3: Breakdown of Blue Whiting landings from the NE Atlantic

8.3 per cent of Blue Whiting landings were from the Norwegian EEZ but the Norwegian fleet landed 55.7 per cent of the total.

To sum up, whilst the agreement with Norway may deliver operational flexibility in the case of species such as Herring, in the case of others what really seems to be driving it is good old-fashioned barter. The EU has been swapping Norwegian Cod for EU Mackerel and Blue Whiting; or, not to beat about the bush – the Germans and the French have been swapping Norwegian Cod for UK (and largely Scottish) Mackerel – it’s not quite that cut and dried but if you refer back to the previous two articles you’ll see it’s not a far cry from that.

In short, the agreement with Norway is a barter deal and one that at present, as this and the previous two articles argue, is very much NOT in the UK’s interest, even though it is roughly a balanced one for the EU28 and for Norway.

It’s good for the EU27, neutral for Norway, bad for the UK.

Most attention, at present is on negotiations about a future fisheries agreement with the EU; but as the UK prepares to leave the EU’s CFP it is also, depending upon its future relationship with the EU, leaving the framework of the Northern Agreements.

So, in parallel with negotiating a future fisheries agreement with the EU, the UK needs to consider whether it is in its interests to step into the EU’s shoes and maintain the Northern Agreements with Norway, the Faroe Islands and, maybe, Iceland; but with the opportunities currently being enjoyed by EU fleets other than the UK’s being transferred to the UK fleet in return for Norway (and the Faroe Islands) continuing to be allowed to fish in UK waters.

Alternatively, rather than the kind of barter arrangement currently in place between the EU and Norway, might the UK prefer one that really did focus on flexibility and efficiency; or perhaps none at all?

The next article in this series will look in more detail at a what benefits the UK and Norway might seek to derive from a future agreement, should they decide to negotiate one.


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