There is no simple answer to the question. But we can point to three factors: a robust scientific knowledge base, comprehensive and precautionary regulations, and a strict enforcement regime. Also, nature has been forthcoming by providing for successful reproduction of fish year after year.
The knowledge about the living marine resources and the ecosystems they are a part of is produced by the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (IMR) and the Russian polar institute of marine research PINRO.The two institutions have cooperated since the 1950´s, and today the cooperation spans a wide set of activities: joint research cruises, annual joint planning meetings, bi-annual symposia and more. An important aspect of this cooperation today is that it has evolved to include monitoring of ecosystem status, in addition to the annual assessments of commercial stocks of living marine resources.
A critical aspect of the research cooperation is its being embedded in the work of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and its Arctic Fisheries Working Group. This ensures an international quality control of the results of the research cooperation and insulation of the provision of scientific advice from political pressures.
The second explanation for the robust status of the major, commercial fish stocks in the Barents Sea is the the way fisheries are regulated. Over time, the catch quotas have been brought down to levels that are commensurate with the sustainability of fish stocks. As a result, the catch quotas for cod, for example, is now almost five times the size they were in 1990. Similar developments can be seen for a number of fish species. In achieving this, a critical measure has been the long-term management plans with harvest control rules that translate the precautionary principle into practical management measures.
Another important factor in this regard is that the allocation of resources between the two countries was decided on already in the 1970´s. Cod and haddock are distributed with 43% each to Norway and Russia, and 14% to third countries. Also, a number of regulations of a technical nature, pertaining to fishing gear, when to fish and where, are important to the achievement of sustainable fisheries.
In the enforcement of regulatory measures, the important issue is that illegal fishing is substantially reduced. Illegal fishing of cod was in the order of 100,000 tons a decade back. Today, illegal fishing is all but eradicated, through a combination of enforcement cooperation between Norway and Russia, enhanced enforcement at the domestic level in the two countries, and measures taken by the Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC). Also, an international agreement on port state control is important here.
Cooperation and conflict
While the Norway-Russia cooperation in fisheries management delivers good results in terms of sustainable fisheries, this does not mean that cooperation is not without its ups and downs. Through the years since the establishment of the Joint Fisheries Commission in 1975, a number of controversies has surfaced, relating to fishing in spawning areas, fishing beyond quotas, discard measures, enforcement practices, and illegal fishing.
Such controversies will arise also in the future. The important issue is that mechanisms exist to resolve controversies and advance the cooperation to a new stage.
An important future challenge to the Norway - Russia living marine resources cooperation is global warming and its associated effects in marine ecosystems. As stated above, the commercial fish stocks are now very large and therefore spreads over a very large area searching for food. When the ice in the Central Arctic Ocean withdraws in summer, water temperatures increase and the plankton on which fish feeds and forage fish moves north, the fish stocks managed by the Norway - Russia Fisheries Commission also spreads over a larger area. The Commission has already asked the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea to address this issue, which has been on the agenda of the IMR and PINRO for quite some time.
In addressing these challenges, the well-tried recipe of robust scientific knowledge, comprehensive regulations of fisheries activities, and strict enforcement will continue to be important. There are also lessons to be learnt from this in other regions. Sustainable fisheries cannot be achieved by quick fixes, only by consistent efforts over time.