December 6, 2017

Countries Agree to Prevent Unregulated Fishing in Central Arctic Ocean

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

Author(s): Catherine Benson Wahlén

Delegates from Canada, China, Denmark, the European Union (EU), Iceland, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Norway, the Russian Federation and the US have concluded negotiations on an agreement to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the high seas area of the central Arctic Ocean. The agreement also establishes a joint program of scientific research and monitoring to improve understanding of the potential for sustainable fisheries harvesting and management.

Negotiations on an agreement took place over two years, with the fifth and final round concluding on 30 November 2017, in Washington DC, US. Canada, Denmark, Norway, the Russian Federation and the US all have Arctic shorelines. China, the European Union (EU), Iceland, Japan and the Republic of Korea have significant high seas fishing fleets.

The Chair of the meeting stated that, while “commercial fishing has never been known to occur in this area, nor is it likely to occur in the near future,” changing conditions have resulted in thinner summer sea ice and open water in up to 40% of the central Arctic ocean. According to the EU, warming in the Arctic region is also causing changes in the distribution and size of fish stocks in the area, which may make the Arctic highs seas attractive for commercial fisheries over the medium to long-term.

Consequently, the ‘Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean’ is based on a precautionary approach to fisheries management. It is scheduled to last for 16 years and to be automatically renewed every five years until a science-based fisheries quota and rules are put in place or a country objects. The agreement prevents unregulated fishing in an area that is approximately 2.8 million square kilometers, or about the size of the Mediterranean Sea. It also establishes and operates a ‘Joint Program of Scientific Research and Monitoring’ to improve understanding of the area’s ecosystems and determine if fish stocks can be sustainably harvested. In the future, one or more additional regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) or arrangements may be established.

The EU Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, Karmenu Vella, said the agreement “will fill an important gap in the international ocean governance framework and will safeguard fragile marine ecosystems for future generations.” Following the conclusion of negotiations, delegations will conduct a legal and technical review of the provisions and translate the agreement into other languages for signature