Fish and Chips Under Threat or How the UK Lost a Fishing Privilege in the Barents Sea


Barents Sea
Photo: flickr.com / Paul van de Velde

On 18 January, the Russian Government considered the denunciation of a fisheries agreement with the UK that had allowed British fishing vessels to operate in specific areas of the Barents Sea for almost 70 years. British vessels were also given the right to sail and anchor freely in these waters. The agreement was regularly renewed for five-year terms. The document stipulated that the arrangement remains in force until one of the parties withdraws from it.

The Foreign Ministry and the Russian Ministry of Agriculture initiated the cancellation of the agreement. In fact, the treaty was a unilateral Russian concession to the British in "gratitude" for their allied actions as part of the anti-Hitler coalition, much like the treaty with the Norwegians on the procedure for the settlement of border conflicts and incidents and the mutual return of reindeer crossing the state border. Under the agreement, the British authorities did not give the Soviets anything in return for the right of entry of their fishing vessels into the territorial waters of the USSR (now territorial waters of Russia).

Opinions about the forthcoming consequences differ. On the one hand, this situation can be seen as a measure to unilaterally fuelling the food crisis. There is a possibility that the consequences of the treaty denunciation will affect British consumers. A massive amount of cod and haddock sold in fish and chips shops across the country is traditionally sourced from these waters - according to UK Fisheries data, a whopping 566,784 tonnes of cod was scooped in the Barents Sea just last year alone, Daily Mail reports.

However, it is important to realise that Russia's decision to terminate this treaty followed economically and politically unfavourable actions on the part of the UK. In addition to imposing and supporting numerous sanctions packages, the UK also stopped treating Russia as a Most-Favoured-Nation in March 2023. In particular, the UK imposed an additional 35% tariff on imports of certain Russian goods into the country, including copper and vodka.

The UK Government’s Chancellor of the Exchequer said on these measures: “our new tariffs will further isolate the Russian economy from global trade, ensuring it does not benefit from the rules-based international system it does not respect.”

In 2023, up to 40% of the cod and haddock consumed by the British came either directly from Russia or from the Russian maritime economic zone. At the same time, the British trawlers preferred to operate in Norwegian waters of the Barents Sea. Therefore, the denunciation is likely to have a symbolic meaning.  This decision is expected to protect the interests of Russian fishermen and support the Russian fishing industry.

This is the first international food treaty to be terminated.

The editorial board of The Arctic Century



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