Commercial fishing should be banned in the Central Arctic Ocean until protective measures are taken, scientists claim. (Photo: Oceans North, Pew/FIS)
Scientists call for fisheries accord to protect Central Arctic Ocean
Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 01:50 (GMT + 9)
An open letter released by the Pew Environment Group has more than 2,000 scientists from 67 countries urging Arctic leaders to form an international fisheries accord to protect the unregulated waters of the Central Arctic Ocean. The move comes in response to new maps which show that the loss of permanent sea ice is opening up as much as 40 per cent of this pristine region to industrial fishing during the summers.
"Scientists recognise the crucial need for an international agreement that will prohibit the start of commercial fishing until research-based management measures can be put in place," said Henry Huntington, Pew Arctic science director.
More than 60 per cent of the scientists who signed the letter are from one of the five Arctic coastal countries: Canada, the US, Russia, Norway and Greenland/Denmark.
|Artic Fishries Letter Signer counts pie chart. (Arctic chart: PEW)
“The science community currently does not have sufficient biological information to understand the presence, abundance, structure, movements, and health of fish stocks and the role they play in the broader ecosystem of the central Arctic Ocean,” the letter reads. “In the absence of this scientific data and a robust management system, depletion of fishery resources and damage to other components of the ecosystem are likely to result if fisheries commence.”
The scientists recommend that these Arctic countries collaborate to take the following steps:
- Develop a precautionary international fisheries management accord;
- Start with a catch level of zero until sufficient research can assess the impacts of fisheries on the ecosystem;
- Set up a robust management, monitoring and enforcement system before commercial fishing begins.
In 2009, the US closed its Arctic waters to commercial fishing so scientists could assess the evolving environment. Canada is drafting its own fisheries policy for the adjoining Beaufort Sea.
While industrial fishing has not yet begun in the northernmost part of the Arctic, its newly opened waters are closer to Asian ports than Antarctica's waters are. Bottom trawlers regularly catch krill and toothfish in the Southern Ocean, and the lack of regulation in the Arctic region could motivate similar activities.
"Atlantic Canada has experienced the damage that unregulated fishing can cause, even when it is outside the 200-mi limit," said Trevor Taylor, policy director for Oceans North Canada, a collaboration of Pew and Ducks Unlimited Canada, and a former fisheries minister for Newfoundland and Labrador. "Canada should take the lead in helping craft an international accord to prevent the start of industrial fishing. This will protect the environment and strengthen Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic."
Pew is working with Arctic countries, scientists, the fishing industry and indigenous peoples to expand support for an agreement that will protect the international waters of the Central Arctic Ocean and its living marine resources.
By Natalia Real