Skip to main content
Oceans and fisheries
News announcement23 August 2021Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

EU expresses concern over unsustainable decisions on Arctic cod by Norway and Russia

Scientists warn that there is less and less cod in the Barents Sea, the sea around the North of Norway and around the archipelago of Svalbard.

Glaciers of the Svalbard archipelago © Oleksandr Umanskyi / Adobe Stock
Svalbard archipelago © Oleksandr Umanskyi / Adobe Stock

The 2021 scientific advice, as provided independently by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES),  indicates that the stock’s deterioration is more rapid than expected. Therefore, the European Union has great concerns that Norway and Russia, without seeking to cooperate with any of the other relevant stakeholders, are taking decisions that are leading to an unsustainable fishing of the stock.

In fact, scientists advise that to protect the Arctic cod, catches should be reduced by 43% in 2022, to be in line with the best available scientific advice for a sustainable management. Contrary to this, a Norwegian-Russian management plan, developed without involvement of the international stakeholders, foresees a much smaller decrease of 20%, only, and hence falls short of the scientific advice. Norway and Russia chose to deviate from the international gold standard of sustainable management, the so called maximum sustainable yield (MSY) principle, in managing this stock based on their bilateral management plan. Even more worrying, from 2017 to 2020, the quotas for Arctic cod fixed by Norway and Russia even disregarded the level provided for by their bilateral management plan by continuously setting higher quotas.

Sustainable management relies on cooperation

The EU is calling on Norway and Russia to cooperate on the management of this stock, together with all relevant parties with the objective of agreeing a sustainable and non-discriminatory management of Arctic cod. While the EU and Norway have different interpretations of the Treaty of Paris governing the management of fisheries around the archipelago of Svalbard, for more than 35 years, together we have ensured a stable management of this stock. As a testimony to this successful cooperation, the EU would have expected Norway to engage with the EU prior to adopting a drastic change as compared to the past management and quota allocation practices.

The recent decisions of Norway and Russia lead to a higher pressure on this important fish stock, and to a discriminatory treatment of EU fishers, who see their long-standing rights not recognized by the Norwegian authorities to the benefit of the Norwegian and Russian fishers. The approach of setting quotas to be fished by other States, without involving those States, contravenes the international law of the sea; moreover, setting fish quotas above the maximum sustainable yield risks further deterioration of the fish stocks concerned.


The European Union is committed to sustainable fisheries in all waters where its vessels are operating. The EU has a track record of sustainable management, notably having established management plans (MAPs) for its fisheries in all its northern waters (Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic Sea) and in the western Mediterranean and having strived to engage all concerned non-EU countries to join in managing shared fisheries along the sustainable parameters of those plans, in order to restore or maintain stocks above sustainable MSY levels. Managing stocks at MSY level allows fishers to take the maximum amount of fish out of the sea without compromising the regeneration and future productivity of the stocks.

More information

Fisheries in Svalbard



Publication date
23 August 2021
Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries