During the polar night, the lights from shrimp trawlers in Isfjorden are visible almost all the time. And from the great views in the living room in Gruvedalen it struck me that the scope of this fishing has to be quantified and described. Along with a number of competent colleagues at The University Centre in Svalbard, at the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research and and the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries, which have access to the appropriate data sources, we have created a scientific article about Svalbard's fisheries recently published online by Polar Science. Since there is now interest in fishing activities in Longyearbyen, we believe our results are of interest to many persons other than our peers.
Our data sources are the Directorate of Fisheries' databases, which since 1980 have tracked catches according to type, quantity, value and area for all commercial fishing in Norway. The data has been available at the directorate's website since 2005. The directorate's Fisheries Monitoring Centre has since early 2000 tracked where boats longer than 15 meters are located and fishing at any time.
Tracking: The overview shows plots of fishing vessels over 15 meters during fishing, for the years 2006-2008.
Nearly five million tons of fish and shellfish have been caught in the Svalbard zone since 1980 (the Fisheries Protection Zone around Svalbard that Norway established in 1977), for a total net present value of 27 billion kroner, or approximately 800 million kroner per year. Svalbard's fisheries therefore amount to about four percent of the total fishing industry in Norway (about 22 billion kroner nationwide in 2014). Our analysis shows, however, varying but increasing catches of valuable bottom fish such as cod and haddock in recent years. The increase in cod, we believe, is related to warmer waters on the west side of Svalbard that allow the species to occupy and feed in those waters during late summer and autumn. We show with a comparison of temperature measurements from annual observations in a section west of Svalbard and the opening of Isfjorden that the sea temperature at the appropriate depth for cod has varied over the years, but there has also been a rising trend since 1980. In recent years, the cod stocks reached record levels and that can also affect the spread northwards.
At the same time, we are seeing a slight decline in shrimp fishing. We believe this is related to poorer profitability in that industry. We have also seen some movement of shrimp east in the Barents Sea and into the Russian zone in recent years that may have affected the catch rates – and hence the interest in shrimping. There are only a few large oceangoing shrimp trawlers left, but they are very effective capturing machines.
The largest fishery by volume in the Svalbard zone was probably summer capelin fishing going east and north of Hopen, with annual catches of up to 737,000 tons. This fishery was halted in the mid-1990s as part of a management strategy where capelin served as food for cod, with a determination that a 95 percent probability at least 200,000 tons of capelin appearing along the coast of Finnmark to spawn was necessary before considering allowing capelin fishing again.
We have also compiled data showing shell-scraping quests for scallops at Moffen during the late 1980s. This was a Klondike-like fishery where many invested considerable amounts. Among others, several large newly-built boats came into the fishing areas in 1986-1987. With a large supply of shellfish going to market, prices fell and the profitability of the fishery collapsed. Several fishers went bankrupt and the last boat from the fishery was sold during the mid-1990s. One of the new specially built boats, the Concordia, is still fishing at New Foundland. Each boat could operate scrapers that could capture several tons of shells, which made significant traces on the seabed. On the most harvested fields, there are still clear traces of the activities that took place nearly 20 years ago.
We also discuss the possibility that new species may arise in the Svalbard zone. Fishing with traps for snow crab has already started east of Hopen. In 2015, approximately 13,600 tons of snow crab with a value of about 250 million kroner was caught by Norwegian and foreign vessels. Snow crab is likely migrating from the east, and is likely to spread in the colder waters and fjords of Svalbard. Evidence indicates that this is a also new fishery resource around Svalbard in the years to come. But for now it is cod and shrimp that appear to be most valuable.