Arctic nations to regulate fishing in newly ice-free waters

Fish in arctic waters used to be protected by ice. But receding polar ice caps in a warming world could mean more open water for commercial fishing.

Fish in arctic waters used to be protected by ice. But now that the polar ice cap is melting away regularly, five countries with coastlines in the Arctic have agreed to regulate commercial fishing near the North Pole. New York Times reports.

Norway, Denmark, Canada, the U.S., and Russia are working on this unusual agreement to protect a huge area from human exploitation before people have had much chance to exploit it. (Unusual because it’s trying to fix something before it’s broken.)

The intention of an accord, backed by fishing industries in the coastal nations, is to manage for commercial exploitation any stocks of fish that already inhabit the ocean but used to live under the ice, like Arctic cod, as well as fish that may migrate into the new ice-free zone from farther south, as the ocean warms.

Most of the concern is focused on the newly ice-free waters above the Bering Strait -- above the exclusive economic zones of Russia and the U.S. -- which is now accessible to industrial fishing fleets from Pacific Ocean nations like China and Japan. (The Arctic Ocean is thousands of miles closer than Antarctic waters, where Chinese trawlers fish for krill.)

The waters are also teeming with herring, Greenland sharks, whales, walruses, seals, and polar bears. It’s unclear if the fish stocks are large enough to support a commercial fishery. So this accord would protect the open water until marine populations there can be studied.

If successful, it will represent the third such accord struck by countries in the far north to manage the commercial development and industrialization of the region, which is expected to increase with global warming. (The other two regulate search and rescue, and the response to oil spills.)

Talks are scheduled to begin April 29 in Washington.

[Via NYT]

Image: arctic ice extent / PEW

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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