Protecting Fisheries in the High Arctic
The Arctic Ocean is one of the planet’s most pristine marine regions. But new maps show its permanent ice is diminishing due to climate change, opening the international waters of the Central Arctic Ocean to commercial fishing. These waters encompass an area as big as the Mediterranean Sea and are not currently governed by any international fisheries agreements. Such an agreement is needed to close this region to commercial fishing unless and until scientific knowledge and management measures can ensure a sustainable fishery.
International Waters of the Central Arctic Ocean
Northern policy solutions provide models for action in the Central Arctic Ocean. For example, the U.S. recently closed its Arctic waters to commercial fishing until scientific research can assess the rapidly evolving environment. Canada currently is drafting its own fisheries plan for the adjoining Beaufort Sea to respond to the possibility of industrial fishing.
Russia and the U.S. faced a comparable problem in the 1980s when fishing by other countries in the nearby international waters of the Bering Sea “Donut Hole” severely depleted pollock stocks. Russia and the U.S. persuaded other countries to sign the Central Bering Sea Pollock Agreement that closed this area to fishing until scientific data and management measures could ensure a sustainable fishery. Unfortunately, the damage was done and the area remains closed to fishing today.
The Central Arctic Ocean is surrounded by the waters of five countries: the United States, Russia, Norway, Greenland (Denmark) and Canada. Several of them have taken significant steps towards an accord.
In 2008, the United States enacted a law making it government policy to pursue such an agreement. Three years later, the Kingdom of Denmark, which includes Greenland, revised its Arctic policy to call for regulation before commercial fishing begins in the Central Arctic Ocean.In 2012, Canada issued a statement saying international rules must govern commercial fisheries in this region, and Russia’s Expert Council on the Arctic and Antarctic also urged its government to support an international agreement. In May 2013, the five Arctic coastal nations met in Washington, D.C. to discuss the need for an international Arctic fisheries agreement and review a draft text.