The Fisheries Commission will soon have been active within fisheries management for four decades, a period marked by the Cold War, major upheavals, high political conciliation and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Despite such significant political changes, the Fisheries Commission has continued its work.
Photo: © Mikael Hammer, Norwegian Seafood Council


The origins of the Norwegian-Russian cooperation within marine research and fisheries date back to the start of the 1900s, when the two prominent researchers, Fridtjof Nansen and Nikolaj Knipovitsj, met to discuss their views on research into the fish stocks in the Barents Sea during their visit to Norway with the first Russian research vessel, “Andrey Pervozvanny”. The Norwegian and Russian researchers thus laid the foundations for the future development of the relationship between the two neighbouring nations bordering the Barents Sea; a relationship which was sadly broken by the Russian Revolution in 1917 and later by the outbreak of the Second World War.

Post-war, when not only Norway and the Soviet Union, but also certain third countries (which did not border on the Barents Sea) began to develop their fishing activities in the Barents Sea, an increased interest emerged primarily among Norwegian and Russian researchers to develop a closer cooperation in order to discover the reasons for the fluctuations in catch volumes of cod, haddock, capelin, herring and other fish species, and to lay down measures for regulation of fishing. This was the intention when the very first joint research session was organised in the summer of 1957 in Murmansk, involving researchers from the Institute of Marine Research in Norway, led by the Institute Director at that time, G. Rollefsen, and the Knipovich Polar Research Institute of Marine Fisheries and Oceanography (PINRO, Murmansk) led by J. Marti. During this session, the researchers agreed that it would be expedient to compile a joint program for surveillance of the condition of fish stocks and the environment in the Barents Sea. This type of joint research was carried out on a regular basis from 1968, involving annual meetings.

In 1959, 14 countries, including Norway and the Soviet Union, joined forces to form the Convention for fishing in the North-East Atlantic (which laid the foundations for the establishment of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission or the NEAFC). This Commission had no cross-border authority. Its mandate was to make recommendations regarding minimum sizes, mesh width and other technical regulation measures.

While the Commission continued its work, the initiative was taken to establish first a periodic then later a more permanent cooperation between the fishermen from both Norway and Russia, which took place directly on the fishing grounds of the Barents Sea. This cooperation involved providing assistance in emergency situations during poor weather conditions and in the event of conflicts between vessels fishing with different types of gear – line, net, and trawl. Any conflicts were dealt with by a special Norwegian-Russian Commission for complaints. The increasing level of fishing by third countries in the Barents Sea prompted Norway and the Soviet Union to strengthen their cooperation and to find suitable mechanisms for solving problems as they emerged, and to take appropriate initiatives for regulation of fishing in addition to the international mechanisms already laid down by the NEAFC and ICES.

In 1975, Norway and Russia reached an agreement regarding cooperation for fishing activities. The agreement, signed in Moscow in 1975, came into effect immediately. Since that date, Norway and the Soviet Union/Russia have jointly managed three of the most important fishing stocks in the Barents Sea: cod, haddock and capelin.

In many ways, the signing of this agreement encouraged both countries to consider a number of issues. The most important of these were

  1. The acceptance by researchers, fishermen and politicians that the stocks of the main fish species in the Barents Sea are shared by both countries, and that responsibility for these stocks primarily lies with Norway and Russia
  2. The positive and ever-increasing cooperation between researchers from both countries 
  3. The requirement to identify optimal solutions to the conflicts which emerge from time to time between Norwegian and Russian fishermen when fishing in the same areas
  4. The impact of third countries, with an increase in fishing in the Barents Sea and, at times, unregulated fishing
  5. The establishment of the 200-mile economic zones which, for the Barents Sea, has resulted in a whole set of problems related to management and control of fisheries and which required concerted efforts to find the best solutions to these problems

It was expressly to gain a closer cooperation regarding these problems, which are so important for both countries, that the cooperation agreement was signed on 11 April 1975, resulting in the establishment of the Fisheries Commission. The agreement was signed by the Norwegian Minister of Fisheries, Eivind Bolle, and the USSR's Minister of Fisheries, Aleksandr Isjkov.


The year before the initial meeting of the Fisheries Commission, the Ministers of Fisheries from both countries had already reached an agreement on an extremely important principle for the future work of the Commission – namely a 50/50 distribution of the cod and haddock stocks in the Barents Sea. For capelin, the distribution was 60 % for Norway and 40 % for the Soviet Union. In 2009, the stock of Greenland halibut was also distributed, with 45 % for Russia, 51 % for Norway and the remaining 4 % for third countries. As Norway and the Soviet Union started work on preparation for the 200-mile zones, the parties came to acknowledge the need for supplementing the 1975 agreement with an agreement governing mutual rights. This resulted in the “Agreement between the Kingdom of Norway and the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics regarding mutual fisheries relationships”, which was signed on 15 October 1976.

During its initial years, the Fisheries Commission laid down principles for how to solve problems which emerged, approved programs for joint research of the most important fish stocks in the Barents Sea and, on this basis, worked out a proper approach to fisheries management for all catch areas. 
 At the start of the 1980s, the fundamental elements of the bilateral management regime had been put in place. The parties agreed on which stocks were to be governed by joint management and how the quotas were to be distributed among Norway, Russia and third countries. Moreover, the joint fisheries research had been integrated into the activities of the Fisheries Commission, providing both Norwegian and Russian researchers with an important international arena, in addition to ICES.    

Subsequently, the issue of technical regulations became more closely linked to the size of the quota, primarily the cod quota. Marine researchers issued an increasing number of warnings regarding the conditions for the North-East Arctic cod stocks, and these resulted in a substantial reduction in stock estimates. During its 18th session, held in 1989, the Fisheries Commission adopted its lowest cod quota ever: 160,000 tons. This reduction had a major impact, particularly for Norway. In 1989, a ban was introduced on cod fishing using passive gear. By the end of the 1980s, the old conflicts regarding mesh width and minimum size were of lesser importance, allowing more time to be spent on regulation and coordination measures, and controlling fishing. Overfishing and illegal fishing were now focus areas. An expert group was formed to assess measures to combat breaches of regulations. This group proved so efficient at solving such problems that the Fisheries Commission decided to convert the group into a permanent committee for management and control issues in the fisheries sector. Subsequently, the committee has dealt with issues regarding the stipulation of joint conversion factors, procedures for closing and opening  of fishing grounds, the introduction of sorting grids in trawls and satellite monitoring of fishing vessels. At the same time, the cooperation regarding control between the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries, the Norwegian Coast Guard, Murmanrybvod [the Russian fisheries inspection service] and the FSB's border service was extended and reinforced.

In the 1990s, several important regulation initiatives were adopted. These included the introduction of the sorting grid, initially for shrimp fishing then later (1997) for cod trawlers. The next important joint regulation and control initiative implemented was satellite monitoring of fishing vessels. During its session in 1997, the Fisheries Commission had established that joint satellite monitoring could become necessary as a result of international developments. The permanent committee was requested to prepare a plan for satellite monitoring. Subsequent to a busy period of meetings between technical experts from both countries, the resulting system was tested and introduced in the Barents Sea in 2000. Another important regulation measure was the coordination of the conversion factors for different fish products. A working group was formed in 1993. After only one year, the parties had reached an agreement on joint factors for various important products – such as different types of gutted and filleted cod. Subsequently, joint research missions were carried out at sea in order to identify a joint method for stipulating the conversion factors, a practice which continues today.  

At the turn of the century, marine researchers once again issued warnings of poor conditions amongst the cod stocks. In 2000, the Commission chairmen surprised both fishermen and ship owners by informing that the cod quotas had been established for the next three years. The Commission's intention was to provide predictability. According to the Commission chairmen, this initiative reflected the ICES' precautionary approach to management of the cod stock. During the 2001 session, a decision was made to form a working group assigned to the task of compiling a strategy for long-term and sustainable management of the Norwegian-Russian joint stocks. However, before this working group was able to present its results, the Fisheries Commission had adopted a code of conduct relating to the stipulation of the cod and haddock quota.

In brief, this code of conduct involves a precautionary limit for average fish mortality over a three-year period, and a prohibition on changing the total quota from year to year by more than ± 10 percent for cod and 25 percent for haddock. The regulation was adopted in 2002. In 2005, the ICES also approved the Fisheries Commission's code of conduct and stated that it was in accordance with the ICES' Precautionary Approach. The code of conduct is a management tool to ensure stability and predictability when harvesting fish stocks. Relatively little attention had been paid to overfishing and other control issues during the 1990s.

After the turn of the century, there emerged an increased interest in the problems related to transhipment at sea and transport of fish products to third countries. The parties recognised the need to gain more detailed landing information from third countries, and information on unregistered cod fishing in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea was on the agenda at the 2003 session. During the 33rd session in 2004, the Fisheries Commission concluded that there was a significant level of unregistered cod fishing in the Barents Sea, and that all possible measures should be taken to detect and prevent such illegal fishing. This resulted in a number of initiatives being introduced to tighten the requirements regarding reporting and control for transhipment at sea, such as an obligation to report all transhipment operations, an obligation for the receiving vessels to carry satellite tracking equipment, a prohibition on transhipment to vessels sailing under a flag of convenience and the establishment of mobile inspection groups from both countries.     

The 35th session in 2006 adopted a pilot project for continuous exchange of information on satellite tracking in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea (ICES I and II): 

At the same time, the two countries continued to exchange information on quotas and landings per vessel, in addition to exchange of inspectors on each other's vessels and joint control of landings in third countries.

1 May 2007 saw the introduction of the NEAFC's Port State Control System. The Agreed record of conclusions of the 37th session states that «Both parties are pleased to confirm indications that the scope of overfishing has been reduced in 2007 as a result of the introduction of the NEAFC's Port-State-Control regime».

The Agreed record of conclusions of the 38th session is even more positive: “The parties can confirm a significant reduction in the level of illegal fishing in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea”, whereas the Agreed record of conclusions of the 39th session states that «The Parties confirm that, as a result of the analysis of fishing of cod and haddock in 2009, no IUU fishing has been detected by Norwegian and Russian fishermen».

The Fisheries Commission will soon have been active within fisheries management for four decades, a period marked by the Cold War, major upheavals, high political conciliation and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Fisheries Commission has continued its work relatively unaffected by the wider political situation. The Fisheries Commission now stipulates annual total allowable catches (TAC) based on joint research into cod, haddock, halibut, capelin, golden redfish, herring and other species for the entire Barents Sea. Furthermore, at its sessions the Fisheries Commission stipulates national quotas for fishing of joint stocks, for Norway, Russia and third countries. The Fisheries Commission also compiles and adopts a whole set of regulation measures and provides recommendations regarding management and control of fishing in the Barents Sea to those bodies involved in fishing in different countries.

The new treaty between Norway and Russia on maritime delimitation and cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean, which came into force on 7 July 2011, stipulates that the Joint Norwegian-Russian Fisheries Commission shall continue to assess improvements to surveillance and control measures for the jointly managed fish stocks (The Cooperation Agreement between Norway and Russia of 1975 and the Agreement regarding joint relationships of 1976). It is now an incontestable fact that the fish stocks in the Barents Sea are shared between the two bordering nations. Nonetheless, migrating fish have no borders and, as a result, joint coordinated efforts from the governmental management bodies in both countries are required in order to achieve optimal management of the fish stocks and control of fishing, so that the fishermen are able to fish in what they recognise as the traditional fishing grounds in the entire Barents Sea.