Norway could shut off its fishing waters for British and European boats from January 1, as the stalemate in the Brexit talks means that an earlier agreement between the UK and Norway cannot yet come into force, the Scandinavian country said today.
The UK-Norway accord was celebrated in September as the UK's first independent coastal state to give UK fishermen access to seafood worth £ 32 million in Norwegian cod-rich waters.
But Norway, which is not in the EU, says it wants a three-way deal before opening its waters – which means the Brexit impasse could undo the previous deal.
"If we do not reach an agreement by January 1st, we will not open Norway's commercial fishing zones to ships from the EU and Great Britain," Fisheries Minister Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen told Parliament.
"Nor can we expect Norwegian ships to have access to their zones before an agreement is reached," he said.
Norway could block access to its fishing waters for European and British vessels from January 1, its fisheries minister said. Above a British fishing boat off the Yorkshire coast
Norway is part of the European single market and has had a fisheries agreement with the bloc since 1980. However, the terms will have to be renegotiated after the UK leaves.
The UK will leave the EU entirely when the transition period ends on December 31st, regardless of whether or not a free trade agreement has been signed with the 27 remaining members.
This means that the UK will no longer be part of the common fisheries policy and “can decide who has access to its waters and under what conditions”, according to the government.
In September, Norway and Great Britain signed a bilateral fisheries agreement that the UK chief negotiator for Brexit described as a "decisive step forward".
Under the Framework Agreement on Fisheries, the UK and Norway had annual negotiations on access to waters and quotas.
Norway's rich fisheries attract fishermen from the rest of Europe, especially because of its sustainable cod stocks in the Barents Sea.
The desire for an independent fisheries policy was seen as one of the reasons Norway voted 'no' twice to EU membership in 1972 and 1994.
"The agreement is proof of our commitment as a cooperative, independent coastal state," said British Environment Minister George Eustice at the time of the signing of the agreement.
Every year the British fishing fleet lands fish from Norwegian waters worth £ 32 million, the government said.
The Brexit talks remain in a stalemate despite a final diplomatic push in which Boris Johnson went to Brussels this week to meet the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen
Before bilateral agreements can be reached, however, Oslo wants a trilateral agreement between Norway, the EU and the UK, and negotiations on this are still ongoing, Ingebrigtsen said on Friday.
"We have long told the EU that we need a three-way deal and the ball is now in the EU court," he added.
Negotiations on such an agreement have been delayed because after Britain's exit from the bloc, including fisheries, London and Brussels have not yet reached an agreement on their relations, the minister said.
"It cannot be taken for granted that these (fisheries) talks can be concluded before the new year," said the minister, who studied fisheries economics at the university.
Norway's own economic zone has important stocks of species such as cod and herring, with some of the quotas previously assigned to European fishermen.
Boris Johnson said today that fisheries is one of the "issues we seem to be unable to make progress on" along with what is known as the "level playing field" for regulation.
“There is the whole issue of fish where we need to regain control of our waters. So there is still a long way to go – we hope that progress can be made, ”said the Prime Minister on a visit to Northumberland.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the UK and the EU had "not yet found solutions to bridge our fisheries disparities".
She urged London to "understand the legitimate expectations of EU fishing fleets based on decades and sometimes centuries of access".
In the meantime, French leader Emmanuel Macron rejected the charge that the EU's proposal to extend fishing rights by one year in the UK was akin to “having your cake and eating it”.
“I don't want to have my cake and eat it, no. I just want a cake worth its weight. Because I won't give up my share either, ”he said in Brussels.
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