Washington, DC -
08/21/2009 - The Pew Environment Group applauds the Obama administration's landmark decision today to place a moratorium on commercial fishing in virtually the entire Arctic Ocean under U.S. jurisdiction. This is essential to limit stress on fragile marine ecosystems already under pressure from dramatic climate change.
“We are very pleased that the U.S. has for the first time acted to protect an entire marine environment before commercial fishing takes place,” said Marilyn Heiman, U.S. Arctic program director for the Pew Environment Group. “The Obama administration’s historic decision to take a precautionary, science-based approach to fisheries management in the Arctic establishes an important model for the future.”
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced today that he has approved the Arctic Fishery Management Plan that will close nearly 200,000 square miles north of the Bering Strait to commercial fishing for the foreseeable future. The precautionary measure, recommended in February by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, will prevent commercial fisheries from moving into the region as the Arctic ice pack retreats.
Under the plan, commercial fishing will only be allowed if scientific studies determine that it will not damage the sensitive ecosystem or local communities’ subsistence way of life. The plan has widespread support from the Alaska commercial fishing industry, fishery managers, conservation groups and Arctic community leaders.
The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet and some scientists predict that by 2013 the region will be ice-free in the summer. Melting sea ice and a northward movement of fish populations has increased the likelihood that commercial fishing will expand rapidly into the Arctic. That could harm vital habitats for marine mammals, fish and birds and deplete natural resources that Alaska Natives rely on for their survival. The Arctic is home to more than a dozen species of marine mammals and birds and hundreds of different types of fish.
Species such as the polar bear, bowhead whale and spectacled eider which are listed as threatened or endangered are under increasing pressures from the impact of climate change.
"This is a crucial step towards ensuring good decision-making in the Arctic Ocean for the indigenous communities that depend on its abundance as well as for the many marine mammals and other species that live there,” Heiman said.