Oslo seized an EU fishing vessel earlier this year and removed several others in a row over lucrative snow crabs in the Svalbard archipelago.
Norway insists the EU has no right to issue fishing licences off the Svalbard islands with concerns the argument over harvesting the crabs, which can fetch up to £4 a kilo, could set a precedent opening up the region to oil bosses.
According to US government estimates, the Arctic holds 22 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas deposits.
Norway pumps about two million barrels of oil, condensate and natural gas liquids per day, while its daily output of natural gas stands at around 300 million cubic metres.
It generates half its export revenues from crude oil and natural gas, lifting per-capita gross domestic product to around £54,000, one of the world’s highest.
Experts warn if anybody can harvest shellfish in the region, they could also win the right to hunt for oil, despite the Norwegian government insisting the shelf is not open for oil drilling.
Rachel Tiller, a scientist at the SINTEF Ocean group, a research institute headquartered in the Norwegian port of Trondheim, said: “The snow crab is a test. What happens now decides what will happen in every other issue.”
The snow crabs are classed as a resource belonging to the continental shelf, which if the EU stakes a successful legal claim to the shellfish could create a row over rights to the shelf’s other resources.
Oslo insists the Svalbard Treaty grants Norway sovereignty over the archipelago and its resources but the EU maintains as a signatory of the treaty, Brussels is allowed to issue licences for the region.
Harald Sakarias Brøvig Hansen, a doctoral research fellow in marine law and fisheries at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, told Politico: “As a sedentary resource harvested on the continental shelf, it’s possible that the way Norway treats this issue could set a precedent if they find oil, gas, minerals and genetic resources on the…