By: Roman Movchan

As the world only hears about bombings from Russian and Ukrainian governments, the lives of locals of some communities as off-land continue on. Cooperation between Russia and Norway in the field of fisheries in the Barents and Norwegian Seas has not stopped.

It’s in my opinion that it is extremely important to maintain cooperation in the field of sustainable fisheries. This will allow scientists and businesses to continue their important work to maintain food security in Europe and preserve the fragile Arctic ecosystems.

At the end of October 2022, the Russian Federal Agency for Fisheries reported that at the 52nd session of the Joint Russian-Norwegian Commission on Fisheries that its participants agreed on the conditions for fishing in the Barents and Norwegian Seas for 2023. Similar agreements, already for 2024, will most likely be reached in the autumn of 2023.

The Russian delegation headed by Ilya Shestakov and the Norwegian delegation headed by the Secretary General of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries Mette Ingeborgdatter Wikborg, discussed measures to regulate the joint stocks and approved the total allowable catch of cod, haddock and other types of aquatic biological resources for 2023, as well as the values ​​of national quotas. Russia and Norway have set the general allowable catch of Northeastern Arctic cod for 2023 at 566.8 thousand tons. The cod quota for Russia is 241.8 thousand tons.

According to the Federal Agency for Fishery, the parties expressed satisfaction with the joint work on the study of the blue-skinned halibut stocks. Russia and Norway will also continue cooperation to combat illegal fishing and monitor cod and haddock fisheries in the Barents and Norwegian Seas.

But let’s leave politics aside and look at what is happening now through the eyes of a young fisherman who works in the Barents and Norwegian Seas. What is it really like to be a participant in this cooperation in these difficult times not at the political level, but at the level of those who work at sea?

Ivan decided to pursue work as sailor at the age of 20 and has been working at sea for 10 years. Born in Murmansk and has lived all his life above the Arctic Circle, he works for a Russian fishing company in a joint Russian-Ukrainian crew. 

They are able to fish year-round because the warm Gulf Stream and Svalbard Stream prevent the waters from freezing.

He says he rarely has breaks to rest on land. Last year he entered the Maritime Institute in St. Petersburg and is now studying there. Ivan has a lot of experience working at sea and studying is easy for him, but he still tries to read books to learn something new.

Ivan has asked to remain anonymous due to uncertainty of the international climate and work.

Tell us about yourself: how old are you and why did you decide to connect your life with the sea and fishing?

I am 30 and I am a third generation sailor. I decided to connect my life with the sea, following family traditions.

Was it hard for you to get a job here? What path did you go through?

It was challenging to get a job, they rarely hire people without experience. I had to wait for a vacant position for six months and get into slight catching without a high workload. At the initial stage it is important to get basic knowledge and an overview of the work rather than load yourself to the fullest.

At one company there were constant postponements. Then I went round other companies and as a result a suitable position of a sailor-welder turned up.

Long-term overhaul of a fishing vessel in the city of Botsfjord, Norway, the end of 2022. A cozy town with all the benefits of civilization from a school to a gas station and a shopping centre. There are even several bars, with local relationships at a good level. Beyond the hills there is a white desert with a length of 30-40km. Submitted by Ivan, personal collection

Tell me about your typical day on land and at sea.

A day on land. I do my usual earthly affairs. I am studying to be a navigator in St. Petersburg and I hope that in the future I will get administrative work in the port. I go to the gym; I like to get acquainted with girls. I usually spend a lot of money on shore.

My day at sea is more like а ground-hog day . I eat, sleep, work and do it all over again. On fishing vessels there is no rest, no weekends and no holidays. It is a very hard job and it is not for everyone. If you are lucky to have Wi-Fi on the ship, then you keep in touch with friends and relatives. If you are unlucky to have one, then you stay without communication.

What qualities did you have for this job and what qualities did you acquire during your work?

The qualities that I had are strength and endurance. The acquired qualities are competencies and knowledge necessary for a professional fisherman.

What did your first sea voyage teach you? What lessons have you learned?

That you need to stock up on medicines and warm clothes. It is very cold at sea even in summer.

Are you satisfied with working conditions? Can you describe the working conditions as tough?What conditions would you improve in your work?

Entirely. Definitely. Permanent stable connection and better clothing for the crew members.

You work in the Barents region. What advantages for fisheries do you see in this region as opposed to others?

In the Barents Sea, unlike other fishing regions, mainly joint Russian-Ukrainian crews work. We get along very well and understand each other. We have a similar cultural code. I have a best friend and he is Ukrainian. We like walking together in St. Petersburg and Murmansk.

And for yourself personally?

Politics and human relations are different things.

Aboard the Russian fishing vessel travelling the Barents and Norwegian Sea. Submitted by Ivan

The Barents Region includes a large number of countries. Which countries do seafarers work with during the voyages?

As a rule, joint Russian-Ukrainian crews put the fish ashore at Norwegian ports. Norwegians land the fish and also service our ships. Norwegians, Russians and Ukrainians as well as the residents of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania work together at the ship repair.

Did you have to work with Norway? Tell us about it.

We are constantly working with Norway, because all the caught fish goes to Norway for further sale to European countries and China. Norwegians carry out careful quality control over the fish and our vessels. Usually everything goes well, the Norwegians are friendly to us, because they understand that we are doing the same thing, important for the food security of Europe. Russian fishing companies also make good money on this.

Is the fishery now off Svalbard, or offshore? Tell us about it.

Our vessels fish near Svalbard, on Novaya Zemlya, near Canada and in Africa. I can tell you about fishing in the Svalbard region in the Barents Sea. We mainly catch cod, haddock and halibut, as well as shrimp. Other vessels catch king crab. Quite a lot of ships in Russia are being built and modernized for these tasks. There are a lot of fish and nothing threatens its population. Fishing quotas are issued by the joint Russian-Norwegian Fisheries Commission, which relies on scientific data to determine the amount of allowable catches. The data is prepared by competent scientists from Russia and Norway who work together.

The crew of the ship spend a lot of time together. There are also people of different ages in the crew. How do you build relationships on land and at sea? What difficulties do you face?

There are no age concepts at sea. There is a concept of qualification and mutual respect for each other. Without subordination, tact and respect there will be no successful work at sea.

Difficulties occur when something of the above is missing, but we try to resolve all issues peacefully.

How did you and your colleagues survive the coronavirus? Did your salary or working conditions change?

We didn’t notice it much. The doctors who admit us conduct extremely thorough examinations. A covid test is mandatory before a voyage. Since we all go through it, we do not get sick. Salaries have not changed, working conditions either.

How did your family react to your choice of work?

My family treated my choice with respect. They were glad that I’d chosen the family business.

Share a story from work, when you realize that you are in the right place? How do you know that my fishing is yours?

When, after a four and a half months voyage, I realized that all the work began to turn out automatically, with my eyes closed and I stopped getting tired of it and realized that this job is for me [laughs]. In fact, long voyages always exhaust you, spoil your health and negatively affect your psyche. But still I like working at sea. It’s probably something genetic.

What advice would you give to people who want to enter your industry?

If you feel that you are not ready for hard work at sea, do not become a sailor.

Do you encounter garbage and pollution in the waters? If so what?

Occasionally due to the warm current of the Gulf Stream, a lot of garbage is transferred from Africa and Europe. The remains of old ships and trees from the South sometimes sail to Svalbard, as well as a lot of plastic. The current brings everything. Our ships have everything necessary for the collection and storage of household waste, which are sorted into classes: metal to metal, paper to paper, plastic to plastic. Then all of this is accepted by Norwegian ports. Much of it goes to recycling.

Ivan is now in Saint-Petersburg studing to be a navigator while he is going back to work at sea this year to continue help paying for his schooling.

About the Author: Roman Movchan

Roman Movchan works at the public organization “Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of the Murmansk Region”. In 2012, he graduated from the Baltic State University (Kaliningrad) with a degree in linguistics and Cultural communications. He is interested in the Arctic environment, sustainable business development, the activities of the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, as well as the history of the Arctic and Indigenous communities. In 2023 Roman together with youth Arctic experts founded the organization Arctic Youth. The main goal of the project is to form a community of young people interested in the Arctic without anyone being excluded by geographical criteria.

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