With global warming making Arctic waters more accessible, the world’s principal fishing nations have agreed to keep commercial fishers out of the region—for at least the next 16 years. The moratorium, announced at the end of last month, will allow scientists to assess the Arctic’s marine ecosystems and evaluate whether fish stocks could support a commercial fishery.
The culmination of two years of negotiations, the deal protects 1 million square miles of international waters in the Arctic—an area around the size of the Mediterranean Sea. With the rapid loss of summer sea ice over recent summers, roughly 40% of the central Arctic Ocean has been open water—and open to big global fishing fleets.
Nine nations—the U.S., Canada, China, Russia, Japan, Iceland, Denmark and South Korea—and the European Union made the pact, with conservationists applauding the deal. “There is no other high seas area where we’ve decided to do the science first,” says U.S. delegation member Scott Highleyman, who is also vice president of conservation policy and programs at the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C. “It’s a great example of putting the precautionary principle into action.”
As well as making the Arctic off-limits to commercial fishing, the delegations also agreed on a joint research program to identify species and their abundance, and the impact of pressures such as climate change on those populations.
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