Volstad-saken – kan vi stole på Staten?

25 Oct 2013

Onsdag avsa Høyesterett dom i Volstad-saken. Med 9 mot 8 stemmer fastslo Høyesterett at det ikke var ulovlig etter Grunnlovens § 97 når Staten i 2007 omgjorde de tidsubegrensete kvoterettigheter […]

Onsdag avsa Høyesterett dom i Volstad-saken. Med 9 mot 8 stemmer fastslo Høyesterett at det ikke var ulovlig etter Grunnlovens § 97 når Staten i 2007 omgjorde de tidsubegrensete kvoterettigheter som ble gitt Volstad i 2005 til tidsbegrensete rettigheter som faller bort etter 25 år.

Sakens bakgrunn er et offentlig reguleringstiltak. Som et tiltak for å frembringe frivillig kondemnering av overtallige fiskefartøy innførte den borgerlige regjeringen i 2005 en strukturordning som innebar at de redere som – under bestemte vilkår – kondemnerte sine fartøyer kunne beholde kvoteandelen til det kondemnerte fartøyet for evig tid, og fiske denne kvoteandelen med sine øvrige fartøy. Volstad gikk inn i denne ordningen og ga fra seg fartøy og andre rettigheter mot den økte kvoteandelen. Dette var altså en gjensidig reguleringsordning der Staten brukte utdeling av kvotandeler for å oppnå en ønsket frivillig kapasitetsreduksjon i fiskeflåten.

Etter at den rød-grønne regjeringen overtok gjennomførte de i 2007 en endring i regelverket som innebærer at Volstads rett til økte kvotandeler som motytelse for kondemnering av fartøy faller bort etter 25 år.

Spørsmålet for Høyesterett er om denne tidsbegrensningen er i strid med Grunnlovens § 97 som fastslår at ingen lov må gis tilbakevirkende kraft.

Alle dommerne i Høyesterett er enige om at Grunnlovens § 97 kommer til anvendelse, og at den rettigheten Volstad hadde fått i utgangspunktet er vernet av denne bestemmelsen.

I utgangspunktet er dommerne også enige i at spørsmålet om grunnlovsstrid må avgjøres etter en avveining mellom på den ene side de ulemper Volstad påføres som følge av at rettigheten blir begrenset til 25 år og på den andre siden det samfunnsmessige behov myndighetene hadde for å endre regelverket i 2007.

Flertallet i Høyesterett legger stor vekt på at den økonomiske forskjellen mellom de evigvarende rettighetene og de begrensede rettighetene til 25 år er relativt beskjedne. Samtidig understreker de at aktørene i fiskerinæringen er underlagt omfattende reguleringer som på mange måter kan påvirke rammevilkårene. På denne bakgrunn mener de at den nye rød-grønne regjeringen kunne endre kvoteandelenes virketid når dette etter regjeringens oppfatning hadde en god politisk begrunnelse. Konsekvensen av regelendringen var ikke så urimelig for Volstad at hans grunnlovsbeskyttede rettigheter var krenket.

Mindretallet er uenig i begge elementene i denne avveiningen. De mener på sin side at de økonomiske ulikhetene mellom evigvarende og tidsbegrensete rettigheter ikke er så beskjedne som mindretallet hevder. Viktigere synes det imidlertid å være for mindretallet at den tidsubegrensede kvoteandelsrettigheten Volstad ble tildelt var element i et målrettet reguleringstiltak. Mindretallet mener på den bakgrunn at de samfunnsmessige hensynene som anføres for å omgjøre de tidsubegrensede rettighetene ikke er tungtveiende nok.

Dommer Skoghøy, som har et eget tillegg til mindretallsvotumet, setter dette på spissen når han i avsnitt 256 i dommen skriver:

”Volstad AS lot seg friste av tilbudet om tidsubegrensede kvoter og påtok seg irreversible oppofringer ved å kondemnere to fartøy og gi avkall på de fiskerettigheter som var knyttet til disse. Staten må betraktes som en enhet – uavhengig av skiftende regjeringer. Det fremstår som uakseptabelt at staten etter at redere har akseptert myndighetenes tilsagn, skal kunne gå fra sitt løfte uten at det foreligger tungtveiende samfunnsmessige grunner for det.”

Etter mitt syn er det viktigste ved denne dommen nettopp at den stiller et spørsmålstegn ved i hvilken grad man kan stole på de løfter staten gir i forbindelse med langsiktige reguleringstiltak. Det er uheldig, ikke av hensyn til Volstad, men fordi det er samfunnsmessig ønskelig at Staten i noen tilfeller kan bruke slike langsiktige løfter for å motivere private aktører til å handle slik Staten ønsker. Skal slike reguleringstiltak fungere er det selvsagt viktig at de private aktørene kan stole på at løftene ikke kan omgjøres.

Samtidig er det viktig å merke seg at dommen har begrenset betydning. Den kan ikke tas til inntekt for noe politisk partis fiskeripolitikk, og Høyesterett har heller ikke gitt uttrykk for noen prinsipielle begrensninger i Stortingets adgang til å forvalte fiskeriressursene slik de finner hensiktsmessig.

Om forfatteren

Halfdan Mellbye
Halfdan Mellbye Halfdan Mellbye har i 25 år arbeidet med ulike juridiske problemstillinger innenfor fiskeri- og havbruksnæringen. Han har blant annet arbeidet svært mye med næringsreguleringsspørmål og han har i tillegg særlig gode kunnskaper om de biologiske og miljømessige utfordringene for næringsutøverne. Han har i en årrekke vært faglig ansvarlig for faget Havbruksjus ved Universitetet i Bergen. Han har nylig utgitt boken "Rettslig regulering av norsk akvakultur" som er utgitt på Universitetsforlaget 2018. Halfdan har møterett for Høyesterett.

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