World's fishing powers agree to Arctic fishing moratorium

An historic international agreement to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the high seas of the central Arctic Ocean was signed in Washington, D.C., late last week.

The European Union, Canada, Russia, the United States, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Japan, China, and South Korea all signed on to the legally-binding agreement. The deal will protect 2.8 million square kilometers of international waters, and was reached following more than two years of discussions and negotiations, according to Science magazine.

“It’s the first time an international agreement of this magnitude has been reached before any commercial fishing takes place on a region of the high seas,” said Dominic LeBlanc, Canada’s minister of fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, in a statement. 

The melting polar ice cap is opening up the once-frozen Arctic Ocean area to fishing, shipping, resource development and other interests, according to LeBlanc. The countries agreed that no commercial fishing will take place in the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean “while we gain a better understanding of the area’s ecosystems, and appropriate conservation and management measures can be established,” LeBlanc said. The countries committed to a program of joint scientific research and monitoring to gain a better knowledge of Arctic Ocean ecosystems and the potential for sustainable fisheries in the future, he added.

Executives with the Fisheries Council of Canada, the national organization for commercial fisheries, praised the new agreement. 

“Canada is well known for its sustainable and responsible management of its fish resources,” said Paul Lansbergen, president of FCC. “This agreement is proactive action to maintain sustainability of our fish resources in the face of climate change. We applaud the forward thinking.”

As part of the agreement, the government of Canada engaged with Inuit organizations, including representatives of the Inuit Circumpolar Council who were on the Canadian delegation to the negotiations and with key stakeholders including territorial governments, the fishing industry, and environmental groups to seek their views and input.

“The final text recognizes Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ interests, the value of indigenous knowledge in decision making, and provides for their inclusion in the process moving forward," Leblanc said. "The Government of Canada is committed to pursuing a nation-to-nation relationship with the indigenous peoples of this country and will continue to engage them and other northern residents in decisions about the Arctic Ocean."


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