Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut February 25, 2014 - 5:52 am

Canada, U.S. and Denmark support moratorium on Arctic Ocean fishing

Inuit org cautions against any rash decision within Canada's 200-mile limit

LISA GREGOIRE
This map shows the 2.8-million-square-kilometre area in the central Arctic Ocean that lies beyond the exclusive economic zone of the five Arctic coastal states: Canada, Russia, Norway, the U.S. (Alaska) and Denmark (Greenland.) (PHOTO COURTESY OF PEW ENVIRONMENT GROUP)
This map shows the 2.8-million-square-kilometre area in the central Arctic Ocean that lies beyond the exclusive economic zone of the five Arctic coastal states: Canada, Russia, Norway, the U.S. (Alaska) and Denmark (Greenland.) (PHOTO COURTESY OF PEW ENVIRONMENT GROUP)

Officials from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans are in Greenland this week to lobby for an international moratorium on commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean until fish stocks have been properly studied and assessed and a sustainable management plan has been drafted.

Of the five Arctic nations, Denmark and the United States are onside with Canada’s position, say media reports, but Russia and Norway, as yet, are not.

The Globe and Mail reported that federal fisheries minister Gail Shea supports the “interim prohibition on commercial fishing until such time it is determined if a fisheries management organization or arrangement is warranted.”

This appears to be a quiet shift in policy, the Globe reported, since the Conservative government did not overtly support the moratorium two years ago when 2,000 scientists from around the world issued a public letter seeking to protect the Arctic Ocean’s fragile ecosystem.

Coastal countries control resources within 200 miles of their coastline, but management of resources beyond that limit requires international agreements.

Such would be the case for waters in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, sometimes referred to as the “doughnut hole,” which lie outside the jurisdiction of governments, and far outside the jurisdiction of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

Almost all industrial commercial fishing in the Canadian Arctic occurs in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, inside Canada’s economic zone and a distant from the international waters in question.

The Government of Nunavut’s environment department, which oversees fisheries and sealing, is currently developing a new Nunavut strategy for the future of the territory’s fishing industry.

We sought a comment on the proposed Arctic Ocean moratorium but did not receive a response by our publication time.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami said they will monitor the outcomes of this week’s meetings in Greenland, but cautioned that any rules impacting Inuit rights to future economic development should be done in consultation with Inuit.

“Inuit have a right to food security and the sustainable utilization of marine resources to enhance our culture, health and well being,” said ITK president Terry Audla, in an email response.

“In the process of making this decision, the Government of Canada must also consult with Canadian Inuit regional organizations to ensure Inuit rights within our respective land claims are promoted and respected in the development of any possible fisheries agreement in the Arctic.”

Scott Highleyman, international Arctic director of Pew Charitable Trusts, told the Globe that if the five coastal Arctic states can agree on the moratorium, they could make a strong case to the rest of the world to support their position.

This would not have been deemed necessary even a decade ago but with Arctic Ocean ice retreating further annually, scientists predict it could be ice-free in the summer months within 30 years.

Suddenly, oil and gas aren’t the only resources that present themselves on a platter in an increasingly accessible Arctic Ocean.

But because it’s been sealed in ice year round for thousands of years, very little is known about which fish live in the Arctic Ocean and how quickly they reproduce.

In August 2009, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, within the U.S. Department of Commerce, closed American waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska to commercial fishing, “until more information is available to support sustainable fisheries management.”

Canada’s delegation in Greenland this week includes officials from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Trade and Development Canada and the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

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