US, Russia, China, others to sign agreement preventing illegal fishing in Arctic

The United States is set to join nine other countries and organizations in a first-of-its kind agreement to protect Arctic Ocean waters from commercial fishing.

The pact, scheduled to be signed Wednesday, 3 October in Ilslissat, Greenland, comes after two years of negotiations between countries with coastlines on the Arctic as well as other major fishing powers. Those nations concluded talks last November.

The agreement comes as polar melting has reduced the Arctic ice cap and open new areas in the central part of the ocean for vessels. That means commercial fishing may be viable in those areas.

However, nine years ago, the U.S. closed its exclusive economic zone in the Arctic off the northern Alaskan coast to commercial fishing operations until government officials learned more about the region’s ecosystem. Alaska fishermen have expressed fears that the melting could lead to foreign vessels fishing in U.S. waters.

In a statement released 1 October, the U.S. State Department said the Greenland agreement cuts down chances of illegal fishing taking place in U.S. waters currently off limits to American fishermen. 

Under terms of the agreement, the participating nations must create plan to study the Arctic’s ecosystem and not just for fishing purposes.

Michael Byers, an international law professor at the University of British Columbia, praised the countries for their forward thinking on the matter in a Canadian Press article.

"Governments usually don't devote any diplomatic effort to anything other than an immediate crisis,” Byers said. “To actually anticipate a problem and bring countries together and come up with a system that is science-based is a model of what international diplomacy should do."

William Gibbons-Fly, the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary for oceans and fisheries, will lead the U.S. delegation and sign the accord. Other countries scheduled to sign include Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, China, Iceland, South Korea, Japan, and the European Union. It still must be ratified by the nations’ governments in order for it to take effect.


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