From: Associated Press
Published November 28, 2005 12:00 AM

Norway Demands Nearly U.S. $2 Million from Spanish Trawler for Illegal Fishing

OSLO, Norway — Norwegian police ordered a Spanish trawler to post a bond for 13 million kroner (US$1.95 million; euro1.65 million) Friday for illegal fishing before it could leave an Arctic port.


The Spanish trawlers Monte Meixueiro and Garoya Segundo are at the center of a diplomatic spat between Oslo and Madrid after they were arrested last weekend by Norway in Arctic waters.


Spain does not accept Norway's right to arrest or impose fines on Spanish ships in the waters Norway claims around the Svalbard Islands, and has complained to the European Union.


Police in the northern port of Tromsoe ordered the owners of Monte Meixueiro to pay 12.8 million kroner (US$1.91 million, euro1.64 million) for the estimated value of illegally caught halibut, plus a 500,000 kroner (US$74,500, euro64,000) fine for the ship owner and 100,000 kroner (US$15,000, euro12,800) for the captain.


Tromsoe police attorney Ida Munch-Ellingsen said Norway presumes Spain will challenge the fines in courts, and set a March 27 court date.


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Norway unilaterally set up a 200 nautical mile fisheries zone around its Svalbard Islands, north of the mainland, in 1977. However, few other countries accept the claim.


Under Norwegian rules, up to seven percent of a trawler's catch at this time of year can be halibut, while Tromsoe police said most of the Monte Meixueiro's catch, some 363 tons, was halibut.


"It was 88 percent of the catch," Munch-Ellingsen said. "It is illegal to primarily go after halibut."


Spanish authorities have not questioned that the Monte Meixueiro, as well as the Garoya Segundo in a separate case, need to be investigated and possibly fined.


However, Spain, with EU backing, said it was up to Spanish authorities to pursue legal action against its own ships in the Svalbard zone, which Madrid sees as international waters.


The Monte Meixueiro can leave the Arctic port as soon as it posts a bank guarantee for the amount claimed by Norway, police said.


Norway has also had disputes with Iceland and Russia over fishing rights around Svalbard, about 500 kilometers (300 miles) north of the Norwegian mainland.


Source: Associated Press


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