The Arctic is one of the planet’s most pristine marine regions. But as its permanent ice disappears because of climate change, the international waters of the Central Arctic Ocean—which borders the territorial waters of the United States, Russia, Norway, Greenland (Denmark), and Canada—are increasingly accessible to commercial fishing.
Recognizing the need to protect this sensitive ecosystem and better understand the rapidly changing environment, The Pew Charitable Trusts in 2010 began to support an international treaty that would close the Central Arctic Ocean to commercial fishing unless scientific knowledge and management measures can ensure a sustainable fishery.
This goal was achieved in November 2018 with the signing of the International Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean by 10 governments: the five Arctic border nations plus China, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, and the European Union. The agreement prohibits commercial fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean for at least 16 years, and the signatories plan to use that time to study the changing Arctic ecosystem and its marine life and determine whether any fishing could be ecologically sustainable. They further committed to collaboratively supporting scientific research and integrating Indigenous knowledge to improve the international community’s understanding of the open ocean that is emerging from millennia encased in ice. This effort will inform precautionary management measures to ensure that any authorized fisheries are sustainable from the start.
In May 2019, delegations from all the signatories met in Ottawa, Ontario, to begin implementing the agreement and pledged to form a provisional scientific group to coordinate the work of experts and further develop the Joint Program of Scientific Research and Monitoring. The program will incorporate Indigenous knowledge and collect and map baseline information on the Central Arctic food web to provide a better understanding of the ecosystem before it can be further affected by human activities.
The signatories ratified the landmark treaty at the end of May 2021. It went into force June 25, 2021, officially starting the 16-year clock for scientists from the ratifying governments to collaborate on the program of research to determine whether an Arctic fishery would be ecologically sustainable.