Barents region sets the bar for success in fishing


With some of the healthiest stocks in the world, Norway and Russia’s successful co-management of cod stocks in the Barents Sea can be seen as a model for marine conservation in countries, like Canada, that have struggled in this area.


While Atlantic cod stocks in the Barents Sea thrive, those on Canada’s northeast coast are struggling to survive. Canadians overfished their cod stocks in the last 50 years while Norway and Russia were formalizing longstanding collaborations on responsible management of fish in the shared sea. The thriving cod fish stocks in the Barents Sea are a testament to Norway and Russia’s history of cooperation in the region.

Canada’s Atlantic cod stock was decimated by overfishing and shut down by the country’s government in 1992. This was after scientists found that nearly none were left in the region. Cod populations in Canada have declined by up to 99 percent since the 1960s. Now some scientists say the fish have reached such low numbers in some areas that they may no longer be able to replace themselves.

According to a report released by a Canadian government cod in the North Atlantic off the coast of Canada are at serious risk of extinction. The situation is quite the opposite on the Eastern side of the Atlantic.

The North-East Arctic cod in the Barents Sea is one of the few remaining cods stocks in reasonably good condition in the world. According to a report by the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs:

-Close cooperation between the two countries ensures a rational joint management of these fishery resources.

The Joint Norwegian-Russian Fisheries Commission was also established in 1975 to co-ordinate fishing efforts in the region. The countries have annual quota agreements recommended by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

Reidar Toresen of the Institute of Marine Research said the success in the Barents Sea is also partly due to nature.

-It’s easier to manage fish stocks when conditions in nature are positive, where young fish stocks can survive. It’s good to have nature on your side, he said.

But if conditions in nature become less agreeable, Toresen seems confident in the management practices in the Barents Sea.

-The systems that are in place are robust enough to cope if the stocks do decrease.

Dr. Jeff Hutchings, a biology professor at Dalhousie University in Canada and marine conservation expert, explains that in the 1980s fishing pressure on cod stocks were too high in both Norway and Canada, but Norway was able to reduce that pressure dramatically through new ways of setting quotas.

Norway and Russia have clear targets, reference points for limits on fishing and harvest control rules in place. According to Hutchings, Norway and Russia agreed on a harvest control rule in 2004 and -today they have one of the healthiest fish stocks in the world.

But it is not simply an issue of poor management in Canada. Hutchings noted the potential benefits of co-managing fish stocks.

-It might actually result in a more conservation-minded approach when you’ve got two countries doing something.

In contrast, solitary management in Canada’s case with no external in-put or pressure may be part of why the cod stocks in Canada are so far below those in the Barents Sea.

-An interesting difference is the degree to which Norway and Russia both recognize that this is an incredibly lucrative industry and a valuable industry and that it’s in their long-term interest to do something positive about it, he added.

Another important factor in the Barents success is having an outside body like ICES involved to give non-political advice and stock quotas.

-It’s very important that there’s an outside group with participation from Norwegians and Russians, said Toresen.

More recent challenges for the joint commission include how to address the problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Barents Sea. Authorities in both countries were very active in creating regulations to combat IUU and pursuing ships that fished illegally in the sea. Between 2005 and 2008 IUU fishing of in the Barents Sea has been reduced by 84 percent according to the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs.

Marine researchers at the ICES agree that the shared stocks in the Barents Sea are managed and harvested in a sustainable way. Cod stock destruction on level found in Canada should not be a concern for the fishing industry in the Barents Sea.

Co-operation has been an important part of the health of cod stocks in the Barents Sea.

-We could do it on our own, but it’s positive with cooperation you get other views, Toresen 

The Commission has set a quota of 607 000 tons of cod in the Barents Sea for 2010.

Written By Chantaie Allick