"As an employment initiative it may seem attractive in the short term," said Truls Gulowsen.
The head of Greenpeace Norge has thrown cold water for years on Norwegian Minister of Fisheries Per Sandberg (Progress Party) and other supporters of more fisheries further north after mining in Svalbard declines.
Svalbardposten reported Feb. 5 it appears a race is developing to begin fish and seafood processing in Svalbard. A grouping of three companies from Lenvik in Troms is considering possibilities for processing shrimp, groundfish and crab in Longyearbyen. Previously it was reported Cape Fish Group is looking at opportunities to embark upon storage and processing of snow crab. In Barentsburg, Arctic Resource Norge is continuing with a plan for a facility in Grønfjorden. The latter's work has been going on for several years and architects have now been hired for the project.
Changes in ice conditions make the waters around Svalbard and others parts of the Arctic more accessible to fishing vessels, and changes in sea temperatures are causing species to move further north so that new species are emerging in local waters.
Ronny Berg, undersecretary for the ministry, declined to comment on the race between the Norwegians and Russians, but said it is important to generate new jobs.
"It is not the point to be first, but it's clear that I'm hoping they come in the soonest possible amount of time," he told Svalbardposten.
'Processing is awkward'
Berg's position gets little support from Gulowsen, who discourages greater fishing activity along the ice edge, especially trawling. He cites the policy of the United States where, as a precautionary measure, the trawling fleet is not allowed to fish north of the Bering Strait regardless of ice conditions. Less sea ice will not result in more fish in the Barents Sea, but it will offer the opportunity to fish in areas previously protected by ice, according to Greenpeace.
"It shows in the area around Svalbard that there is increasing trawling east and west and north of the archipelago than before," Gulowsen said. "On the American side they won't harm biodiversity they don't know anything about and we believe it would have been natural to take the same precaution on the Norwegian side. Then processing in Svalbard is awkward if you believe it's important."
Isn't it natural to utilize resources?
"Certainly you can say that. In the Barents Sea we have the world's largest cod stock and it is better to harvest it where it has been harvested," said Gulowsen, adding he worries about both the bycatch of Arctic cod and damage to the seabed.
"We see no reason to exploit the ecosystem and cause further pressure," he said.
"Logistically it's a strange thought to establish a processing center in Longyearbyen. It is far away from the market and we already know that there are problems getting the current facilities in Finnmark to keep going."
Scientists have also stated they believe snow crab, which is now heading for Svalbard, may become a billion-kroner industry. As an alien species, snow crab are on the list of unwanted species that should be exterminated. Greenpeace agrees the population must be kept as low as possible.
"We should respond to snow crab as king crab," Gulowsen said.
So a crab industry is OK?
"We say yes to crab fishing with crab pots," Gulowsen said.
Translated by Mark Sabbatini