Belgium, December 5: The European Union, in unison with 9 other nations announced a ban on fishing for the next 16 years in Arctic waters for commercial purposes. The decision has been taken to reportedly give scientists time to understand the region’s ecology and the potential impacts of climate change in the waters.
The deal to protect 2.8 million square kilometers of international waters in the Arctic was reached after six meetings spread over 2 years. Canada, Russia, China, US, Japan and S Korea are among those nations with coastal claims in the Arctic.
Thus far, thick ice and uncertain fish stocks have kept commercial fishing vessels out of the central Arctic Ocean (CAO), but the region is becoming increasingly accessible because of rapid loss of summer sea ice. In recent summers, as much as 40% of the CAO has been open water, mostly north of Alaska and Russia, over the Chukchi Plateau.
As the summer sea ice becomes thinner and its edge retreats northward, more sunlight is penetrating the water, increasing production of plankton, the base of the Arctic food web. These sun-fed plankton are gobbled up by Arctic cod, which in turn are hunted by animals higher up the food chain, including seals, polar bears, and humans.
Under international law, these high seas are open to anyone. In the absence of an agreement, fishing there would not be illegal, but it would be unregulated and some researchers, environmental groups, and policymakers fear it could harm the fragile and rapidly changing marine ecosystem.
In 2012, approximately 2000 scientists called for a fishing moratorium in the CAO to prevent a similar catastrophe. Their efforts were a success: By 2015, Canada, Denmark (representing Greenland), Norway, Russia, and the United States the nations with Arctic coastlines vowed to bar their own fishing vessels from the area.
Delegations from Japan, China, South Korea, Iceland, and the European Union joined discussion later that year to negotiate a new agreement. In December 2016, before he left office, then-President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau affirmed their commitment to a legally binding agreement to prevent unregulated fishing in the CAO.