Precautionary Management for Arctic Fisheries
No commercial fisheries exist on the Outer Continental Shelf north of the Bering Strait at present because sea ice has blocked access. However, the current rate of ice melt due to climate change could soon make the Arctic Ocean more accessible to commercial fishing.
In February 2009, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council recommended that a precautionary approach called be taken to managing the U.S. Arctic Ocean. That approach, called the Arctic Fishery Management Plan, proposed closing the waters north of the Bering Strait to commercial fishing until or unless scientific research determined that such activities would not harm the ecosystem or local people who subsist on its bounty. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke approved the fishery management plan in August 2009 and it took effect in early December 2009. This is a landmark measure because:
- The fishery management plan is the first major recommendation by any federal entity for a precautionary, proactive approach to resource use in order to protect an entire ecosystem.
- The plan was supported by the Alaska fishing industry, fishery managers, Arctic community leaders and conservation groups.
- The plan establishes an important precedent for other nations whose territorial waters encompass part of the Arctic Ocean.
The Department of Commerce recognized that proper management and more research about the Arctic ecosystem could protect vital habitat for marine mammals, fish and birds and help sustain indigenous communities’ subsistence way of life.