With continuously rising temperatures, it’s no wonder polar scientists recently reported the sixth lowest extent of ice on record. Climate change points to diminishing ice cover and thickness in much of the Arctic, converting areas of ice to clear-sailing waters. Additionally, climate change is pushing fish populations north as lower latitudes warm. Since overfishing in traditional bodies of water have depleted many fish populations, these untouched grounds are extremely appealing to commercial fishing companies.
And fishing companies have started to catch on to this new enterprise. While commercial fishing has not previously ravaged the Arctic, large ships have begun to explore the new areas. Maersk, a Danish shipping company, sent a ship in August to evaluatethe potentialprofits of essentially going to the ends of the Earth to fish.
However, on Wednesday October 3, nine nations signed an agreement banning commercial fishing across a large expanse of the Arctic Ocean. This includes the U.S., Canada, Russia, Denmark, and Norway, the five countries surrounding the high seas, as well as Iceland, Japan, South Korea, and the EU.
This moratorium will protect an area of 2.8 million square kilometers, approximately the size of the Mediterranean, for at least 16 years. If all nine countriesagree to do so, this agreement can be extended in five-year increments.
Steve Ganey, senior director for land and ocean programs at the U.S.-based nonprofit organization Pew Charitable Trusts, best explains the necessity for this agreement: “It would be risky and unwise to allow commercial fisheries to operate in the Arctic before scientists have established a baseline for monitoring the health of the region’s marine ecosystem.”
In fact, as part of the agreement, all nations are committed to a research and monitoring program to better understand the Arctic ecosystem and discover the feasibility of introducing sustainable fishing in the future. Regarding implementation, researchers plan to involveindigenous peoples, territorial governments, the fishing industry, and environmental groups.
Should commercial fishing in the Arctic be legalized afterwards, as Ganey explains, this time will be used to “develop the structures and controls that would be necessary to ensure that any fishery is ecologically sustainable.”
This agreement represents a significant step forward for sustainability and proactive policyinmaintainingbiodiversity, specificallyin the Arctic. It will prevent the overfishing and pollution practiced in oceans across the globefrom spreading to the already critically-threatened Arctic oceans. Indeed, Eva Kjer Hansen, Denmark’s minister for fisheries, notes that the gathering and agreement to protect such a large area that had not yet been fished in was a historical first.