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Scientists urge protection of Arctic fisheries

Open letter signed by 2,000 researchers calls for temporary ban on fishing until baseline data is established

Sea ice in the Bering Sea and Bering Strait. PHOTO COURTESY NASA.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Leading scientists from around the world warned that unbridled commerical fishing in newly thawed Arctic waters is likely to result in resource depletion similar to what’s occurred in other areas.

“The ability to fish is not the same as having the scientific information and management regimes needed for a well-managed fishery,” the scientists wrote in an open letter, advocating for research that could help establish good baseline data about marine ecosystems in the Arctic Ocean.

“The science community currently does not have sufficient biological information to understand the presence, abundance, structure, movements, and health of fish stocks and the role they play in the broader ecosystem of the central Arctic Ocean. In the absence of this scientific data and a robust management system, depletion of fishery resources and damage to other components of the ecosystem are likely to result if fisheries commence,” they wrote.

The letter was released by the Pew Environment Group’s Arctic Ocean campaign, along with maps showing that the loss of permanent sea ice has opened up as much as 40 percent of this pristine region during recent summers, making industrial fishing viable for the first time.

“Scientists recognize the crucial need for an international agreement that will prohibit the start of commercial fishing until research-based management measures can be put in place,” said Henry Huntington, the Pew Environment Group’s Arctic science director. “There’s no margin for error in a region where the melting sea ice is rapidly changing the marine ecosystem.”

“Atlantic Canada has experienced the damage that unregulated fishing can cause, even when it is outside the 200-mile limit,” said Trevor Taylor, policy director for Oceans North Canada, a collaboration of the Pew Environment Group and Ducks Unlimited Canada, and a former fisherman and fisheries minister for Newfoundland and Labrador. “Canada should take the lead in helping craft an international accord to prevent the start of industrial fishing. This will protect the environment and strengthen Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.”

More than 60 percent of the scientists who signed the letter, released on the first day of the International Polar Year 2012 science conference in Montreal, are from one of the five Arctic coastal countries—Canada, the United States, Russia, Norway, and Greenland/Denmark.

They want countries around the Arctic Ocean to:

  • Take the lead in developing a precautionary international fisheries management accord.
  • Start with a catch level of zero until sufficient research can assess the impacts of fisheries on the central Arctic ecosystem.
  • Set up a robust management, monitoring, and enforcement system before commercial fishing begins.

The United States adopted a precautionary approach by closing its Arctic waters to commercial fishing in 2009 to allow scientists to assess the evolving environment. Canada is drafting its own fisheries policy for the adjoining Beaufort Sea.

Although industrial fishing has not yet occurred in the northernmost part of the Arctic, its newly opened waters are closer to Asian ports than Antarctica’s waters are. Large bottom trawlers regularly catch krill and toothfish in the Southern Ocean, placing stress on populations of these fish. The lack of regulation in the Arctic region could make it an appealing target for similar activities.

Pew’s campaign is working with Arctic countries, scientists, the fishing industry, and indigenous peoples to achieve expanded support for an agreement that will protect the international waters of the Central Arctic Ocean and its living marine resources from premature, unregulated, or unsustainable commercial fishing

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One Response

  1. [...] Scientists urge security of Arctic fisheries “The research community currently refuses to have enough biological info to recognize the presence, abundance, structure, movements, plus wellness of fish stocks as well as the part they play inside the broader ecosystem of the central Arctic Ocean. Read more about Summit County Citizens Voice [...]

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