Published 13 February 2020
In February 2019, the Supreme Court of Norway gave a verdict (the "2019 Decision") which upheld the punishment imposed by a Norwegian trial court for catching snow crab on the Norwegian Continental Shelf in the Svalbard Fisheries Protection Zone without obtaining a permit from Norwegian authorities. The Norwegian Supreme Court decided that snow crab falls within the purview of sedentary species as stipulated under Article 77(4) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Consequently, the Supreme Court held that Norway, as a coastal state, has the exclusive right to exploit the natural resources (snow crab inclusive) on the continental shelf. In affirming that Oslo's obligations under international law did not exempt the defendants from punishment, the Supreme Court decided that no provision of the Svalbard Treaty preclude Norway from punishing foreign nationals who engage in certain activities for commercial purposes, having failed to obtain the Norwegian fishing permit. Notably, the 2019 Decision has generated mixed reactions from different quarters. The postulation has been put forward that the conflict over the snow crab is a 'disguise' for the bigger issue as to whether Norway is amenable to a 'peaceful co-exploration' of the resources with its neighbours with respect to the shelf around Svalbard or only committed strictly protecting only her rights as a coastal state. Drawing inspiration from positive international law, this article seeks to test the veracity of the assertion that the 2019 Decision has great implication for the natural resources in the Svalbard waters, beyond the immediate effects on fishermen from the European Union.