Arctic Ocean - International

Protecting Fisheries in the High Arctic

The Arctic Ocean is one of the planet’s most pristine marine regions. But new maps show its permanent ice is diminishing due to climate change, opening the international waters of the Central Arctic Ocean to commercial fishing. These waters encompass an area as big as the Mediterranean Sea and are not currently governed by any international fisheries agreements. Such an agreement is needed to close this region to commercial fishing unless and until scientific knowledge and management measures can ensure a sustainable fishery.

Northern policy solutions provide models for action in the Central Arctic Ocean. For example, the U.S. recently closed its Arctic waters to commercial fishing until scientific research can assess the rapidly evolving environment. Canada currently is drafting its own fisheries plan for the adjoining Beaufort Sea to respond to the possibility of industrial fishing.

Russia and the U.S. faced a comparable problem in the 1980s when fishing by other countries in the nearby international waters of the Bering Sea “Donut Hole” severely depleted pollock stocks. Russia and the U.S. persuaded other countries to sign the Central Bering Sea Pollock Agreement that closed this area to fishing until scientific data and management measures could ensure a sustainable fishery. Unfortunately, the damage was done and the area remains closed to fishing today.

The Central Arctic Ocean is surrounded by the waters of five countries: the United States, Russia, Norway, Greenland (Denmark) and Canada.

Central Arctic Ocean protection

In July 2015, officials from Canada, Greenland (Denmark), Norway, Russia, and the United States issued an Arctic Fisheries Declaration reflecting their consensus on the need for international measures to prevent commercial fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean until scientific research and management can ensure a sustainable resource. In December 2015, the U.S. hosted the first meeting between Arctic and non-Arctic countries to discuss an international fisheries accord. Negotiations continued at meetings held throughout 2016 in Washington; Iqaluit, Nunavut; and the Faroe Islands, Denmark; and in March 2017 in Reykjavik, Iceland.

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Susannah Cernojevich

Officer, Communications