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Arctic high seas agreement

Published by FiskerForum, 02-12-2017 · info@fiskerforum.dk

Nations with interests in the Arctic regions met this week in Washington DC to reach an international agreement on future exploitation of Arctic fish stocks as increasing areas of international waters become ice-free and accessible.

The participating nations are the Arctic Five; Russia, Canada, the USA, Denmark (on behalf of Greenland) and Norway. Nations with interests in the Arctic region, China, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Iceland and the European Union, also participated, reaching an agreement intended to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the Arctic high seas until sufficient scientific information to support the sustainable exploitation of fish stocks in the region is available.

The agreement, reached at a fifth and final round of negotiations, is seen as a first step towards the creation of regional fisheries management organisations for the Central Arctic Ocean, an area roughly the size of the Mediterranean, to ensure that any future fishing is carried out sustainably.

It follows the Oslo Declaration of July 2015 when the Arctic Five nations agreed not to allow commercial fishing to commence in the central zone of the Arctic Ocean until enough scientific information on the stocks and ecosystem of the Arctic region is available and the necessary mechanisms for regulating fisheries are not established.

‘Commercial fishing has never been known to occur in this area, nor is it likely to occur in the near future. However, given the changing conditions of the Arctic Ocean, the governments in question developed this agreement in accordance with the precautionary approach to fisheries management,’ commented State Department Ambassador David Balton who chaired the meeting.

‘The agreement will establish and operate a Joint Program of Scientific Research and Monitoring with the aim of improving the understanding of the ecosystem(s) of this area and, in particular, of determining whether fish stocks might exist in this area that could be harvested on a sustainable basis. The agreement envisions the possibility that one or more additional regional fisheries management organisations or arrangements may be established for this area in the future,’ he said.

The Arctic region is warming at almost twice the global average rate, causing a change in the size and distribution of fish stocks. The result could make the Arctic high seas more attractive for commercial fisheries in the medium to long term.

‘The commitment and leadership shown by all parties have made it possible to reach this historic agreement. It will fill an important gap in the international ocean governance framework and will safeguard fragile marine ecosystems for future generations,’ commented Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs.

The agreement is fully in line with the European Union’s long-standing position - emphasised recently at the EU-hosted Our Ocean Conference in Malta on 5-6 October - that no commercial fisheries should begin in the Arctic high seas before a science-based and precautionary management regime is in place.

The Arctic high seas agreement will enter into force when all ten Parties have signed and subsequently ratified the agreement, following the legal and technical reviews of the agreement’s provisions that each nation has to undertake.

Source: EU, Rosrybolovstvo, et al

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