Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic February 27, 2014 - 4:59 pm

Five Arctic coastal states stop short of total fishing moratorium

But officials vow scientific cooperation to study and protect unknown ecosystem

LISA GREGOIRE
Officials from Canada, the U.S., Denmark, representing Greenland, Norway and Russia met in Nuuk, Greenland, Feb. 24-26 to discuss the fishing implications of an increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean. Delegates, pictured above, agreed that more scientific research needs to be conducted on the Arctic Ocean ecosystem but felt the need for a management structure to govern this high seas zone was not yet necessary. Scientists predict the Arctic Ocean could be ice free in summer within 30 years. (PHOTO COURTESY DEPARTMENT OF FISHERIES AND OCEANS)
Officials from Canada, the U.S., Denmark, representing Greenland, Norway and Russia met in Nuuk, Greenland, Feb. 24-26 to discuss the fishing implications of an increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean. Delegates, pictured above, agreed that more scientific research needs to be conducted on the Arctic Ocean ecosystem but felt the need for a management structure to govern this high seas zone was not yet necessary. Scientists predict the Arctic Ocean could be ice free in summer within 30 years. (PHOTO COURTESY DEPARTMENT OF FISHERIES AND OCEANS)

The five Arctic Ocean coastal states have stopped short of calling for a total moratorium on fishing the high seas in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, but they have agreed to work toward “interim measures to deter unregulated fishing” in that area until further scientific study of the ecosystem has been completed.

“Based on available scientific information, commercial fishing in the high seas area of the central Arctic Ocean is unlikely to occur in the near future,” says a chairman’s statement released Feb. 27, following a meeting this week in Nuuk, Greenland.

“The meeting therefore also reaffirmed that there is no need at present to develop any additional regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) or arrangement for this area.”

Canada, the United States and Denmark, representing Greenland, had been calling for a full moratorium on fishing that area going into the Feb. 24-26 Nuuk meeting. Russia and Norway, at the time, were not onside.

Late on Feb. 27, Leona Aglukkaq, environment minister, and Gail Shea, fisheries minister, issued a joint statement saying they found the discussions in Greenland “encouraging.”

“We appreciate the level of attention the Arctic Ocean Coastal States are devoting to this issue,” the statement said. “It is imperative that we take a leadership role to prevent unsustainable fishing in the Arctic Ocean high seas.”

Each of those five countries has jurisdiction over waters 200 miles off their coastline, but beyond that is open, unregulated territory.

Up until recently, that central ocean area has been locked in ice, but that sea-ice is shrinking annually and scientists have predicted the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summer within 30 years.

Very little is known about fish stocks there and how quickly they reproduce.

The Nuuk chairman’s statement says officials agreed to promote, “scientific research and to integrate scientific knowledge with traditional and local knowledge with the aim of improving understanding of the living marine resources of the Arctic Ocean and the ecosystems in which they occur.”

They also agreed to promote cooperation with relevant scientific bodies and to hold a third scientific meeting no later than the end of 2015.

The statement is written in diplomatic language, suggesting an attempt to appease all member states present.

For instance, it says they “agreed on the desirability of developing appropriate interim measures to deter unregulated fishing in the future in the high seas area of the central Arctic Ocean,” without actually defining those interim measures.

There are many references to cooperation and coordination of scientific study and research, but also a few caveats.

Members said any interim measures implemented will not, “prejudice the rights, jurisdictions and duties of States under relevant provisions of international law… nor alter the rights and obligations of States that arise from relevant international agreements.”

It also says that the coastal states in question can still engage in commercial fishing in those areas beyond their economic zones so long as it’s done under a regional fisheries management arrangement “in accordance with modern international standards.”

Officials agreed to develop a “ministerial declaration” outlining these commitments, to be signed by all five states and adopted in June 2014.

“The meeting also reaffirmed that other States may have an interest in this topic and looked forward to a broader process involving additional States beginning before the end of 2014,” the chairman’s statement said, in the hope that these other nations would support these general principles.

“The final outcome could be a binding international agreement.”

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