Arctic coastal nations negotiate fishing rights in international waters
"It’s about making sure that no one does anything until we know we can do it in a sustainable way"
Arctic coastal nations will meet in Iqaluit this week to decide the future of commercial fishing in a vast expanse of international Arctic waters.
The central Arctic Ocean spans more than two and half million square kilometres but the area is not governed by an international fisheries agreement.
And though frozen year-round, a warming climate risks opening the marine environment to commercial fishing interests.
On July 6, Fisheries and Oceans Canada will welcome representatives from four other Arctic coastal nations — the United States, Norway, Russia and Denmark (Greenland) — to Iqaluit for a three-day negotiating session.
The meetings will build on a declaration signed last summer, when the five countries agreed to a voluntary agreement to ban commercial fishing in the central Arctic Ocean, at least until there’s been more scientific research done in the region.
But their declaration acknowledged that other non-Arctic nations may have an interest in trawling those open waters and Arctic nations committed to bring other countries into the process.
So representatives from Iceland, the European Union, China, Japan and South Korea will also be in attendance in Iqaluit for the three-day meeting.
All 10 nations appear to be on the same page when it comes to conservation in the Arctic waters, said Trevor Taylor, fisheries conservation director at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Oceans North Canada.
But the success of the talks will hinge on whether countries agree to a binding or non-binding agreement, he said.
“There is a fairly substantial point,” Taylor said. “We hope Canada will be strong pushing for a binding agreement.
“It’s also going to come down to all them having the negotiating mandate from their respective governments.”
In a June 30 email to Nunatsiaq News, a Fisheries and Oceans spokesperson said “Canada is committed to working with others to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the high seas of the central Arctic Ocean and to improve our knowledge on fisheries resources and their marine environment in that Arctic area.”
The permanent ice that has covered the Arctic Ocean for tens of thousands of years is starting to melt, and fast. In 2012, about 40 per cent of the central Arctic Ocean was open water — the region is beyond each nation’s 200-mile fishing limit.
And little is known about the health and quantity of fish stocks there. But Taylor said there is most certainly Arctic cod, a species that could be in high demand for the manufacture of fertilizers or aquatic feed, much like the krill that is trawled in Antarctica.
“If the environmental conditions that sustain the Arctic ecosystem are changing, that’s putting a substantial amount of pressure there,” Taylor said.
“Adding fishing fleets to that ecosystem in the absence of any significant knowledge about how much fish is there and how much the ecosystem requires to support marine life is probably not a wise thing to do right now.
“It’s not about having a moratorium in this area forever,” Taylor added. “It’s about making sure that no one does anything until we know we can do it in a sustainable way.”
Absent from the meeting will be Nunavut’s own MP, Hunter Tootoo, who served as minister of Fisheries and Oceans until he left cabinet and the Liberal caucus last May to seek addictions treatment.