Trawler talks will be tough

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Several rounds of talks will be need to arrive at a compromise with Norway regarding the Latvian crab trawler arrested for allegedly illegal fishing, because both parties clearly have polarized opinions on the matter, the Latvian Foreign Ministry said March 20.

"This also concerns the interests and positions of other EU member states," the ministry said in a statement.

The Latvian Foreign Ministry welcomed the opening of talks between the European Commission and Norway on March 10. In a telephone conversation on February 15 the Latvian and Norwegian foreign ministers confirmed mutual willingness to find a diplomatic solution to permit temporary crabbing.

Latvia stressed the need for progress in the talks because Latvian fishing companies are suffering losses due to idle time.

The talks will continue at the meeting of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) in London on March 22-23. The Latvian Foreign Ministry expressed hope that the talks would be constructive and helpful to arrive at a compromise quickly.

As previously reported, the Latvian crab trawler Senator was arrested on January 16 this year for fishing snow crab in Norwegian waters around the Svalbard (Spitzbergen) archipelago. The Norwegians insist that the Latvian vessel had been fishing there illegally while Latvia maintains the fishermen had been acting in compliance with international agreements.

After the incident, the Latvian Foreign Ministry presented a note to the Norwegian Embassy in Riga, asking to release the Latvian crab trawler with a crew of 30 people held in Norway and not to interfere with crabfishing which has been taking place in accordance with international agreements.

Norwegian Ambassador to Latvia Steinar Egil Hagen earlier insisted that Norway had the authority to issue licenses for crabbing on its continental shelf, and the EU and Latvia could not get such licenses without Norway's consent.

Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs (Greens/Farmers) during the meeting with EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella in Brussels called on the EU to address the situation without any delay, the Latvian Agriculture Ministry said.

Taking Norway to court over the vessel's arrest would be the last resort if all diplomatic efforts failed, Duklavs said.

The Norwegian authorities have imposed a €180,000 fine on the Latvian owner of the crab trawler, but the vessel's idling in Norway causes additional €6,800 loss each day.

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