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Science, Nature & Environment PEW Environment: Support an International Arctic Fisheries Agreement
Apr 21, 2012 – Pew Environment Group

More than 2,000 Scientists Worldwide Urge Protection of Central Arctic Ocean Fisheries

More than 2,000 scientists from 67 countries urged Arctic leaders in an open letter released today to develop an international fisheries agreement that would protect the waters of the Central Arctic Ocean. The letter, released by the Pew Environment Group on the first day of the International Polar Year conference in Montreal, noted that loss of permanent sea ice has opened up as much as 40 percent of this pristine region during recent summers, making commercial fisheries viable for the first time in human history.

"Scientists recognize 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, the Pew Environment Group’s Arctic science director. “There’s no margin for error in a region where the melting sea ice is rapidly changing the marine ecosystem.”


Download Letter »


More than 60 percent of those who signed the letter are scientists from one of the five coastal Arctic countries of Canada, United States, Russia, Norway and Greenland/Denmark.

The rest are scientists from more than 62 other countries. The letter recommends the leaders of coastal Arctic countries pursue the following actions:

Take the lead in developing a precautionary international fisheries management agreement:


  • Start with a catch level of zero until sufficient scientific research can assess the impacts of fisheries on the central Arctic ecosystem
  • Set up a robust management, monitoring and enforcement system before fishing begins
Trevor Taylor, policy director for Oceans North Canada, a collaboration of Pew and Ducks Unlimited Canada, applauded scientists for taking this important step. “Atlantic Canada has experienced the damage that unregulated fishing can cause, even when it is outside the 200-mile limit,” said Taylor, a former fisherman and 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.”
 
Why is this international agreement so important? Read our International Arctic fisheries FAQ that provides more information about many related issues, from the size of this region to its ecological significance to other species such as beluga whales, ringed seals and polar bears.

Look at maps showing the extent of summer sea ice melt in this region, evidence of biological activity in the Central Arctic Ocean and its accessibility to bottom trawlers.

Read about other models for precautionary fishery agreements such as the Central Bering Sea Pollock Agreement negotiated by Russia and the U.S. in the 1980s, or the U.S. fishery management plan that closed its Arctic waters in 2009 to allow for scientific research to evaluate whether such activities can be done in a sustainable manner. Canada is also considering putting a fishery policy in place to protect the Beaufort Sea.
 
Although industrial fishing has not yet occurred in the northernmost part of the Arctic, its newly opened waters are closer to Asian ports than Antarctica’s waters are. Large bottom trawlers regularly catch krill and toothfish in the Southern Ocean, placing stress on populations of these fish. The lack of regulation in the Arctic region could make it an appealing target for similar activities.
 
Pew’s international Arctic campaign is working with Arctic countries, scientists, the fishing industry, and indigenous peoples to achieve expanded support for an agreement that will protect the international waters of the Central Arctic Ocean and its living marine resources from premature, unregulated, or unsustainable commercial fishing.

 



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