Ilulissat, Greenland – Officials from nine countries and the European Union are meeting in Ilulissat, Greenland tomorrow to sign an international accord that protects 1.1 million square miles of the Central Arctic Ocean from large-scale commercial fishing. The legally binding agreement will be in effect for at least 16 years while scientific research learns more about how climate change is affecting this region’s marine life.
“This historic agreement will not only safeguard the Central Arctic Ocean from overfishing but also serves as a model for international cooperation in the face of unprecedented environmental change,” said Scott Highleyman, vice-president of conservation policy and programs at Ocean Conservancy, who also served on the U.S. delegation during negotiations for the accord and will attend the signing ceremony. “The agreement’s ongoing commitment to scientific research in this region will ensure a precautionary approach in decades to come.”
A new analysis of satellite ice data for the Central Arctic Ocean prepared by Ocean Conservancy reveals how quickly sea ice is receding in the region. Between 2010 and 2017, the average minimum thickness of sea ice in this region was 60 percent less than in the 1980s. At the same time, the amount of open water each September between 2010 and 2017 soared to an average of 22 percent as compared to only one percent in the 1980s. In 2012, it reached a record high of 42 percent open water.
“This agreement is being signed just in time for this newly accessible sea,” said Henry Huntington, Arctic science director for Ocean Conservancy. “Arctic sea ice is no longer a year-round barrier to the Central Arctic Ocean so this agreement to send in scientists before commercial fishing ships is a promising sign for the Arctic’s future.”
Officials from United States, Canada, Norway, Russia, Greenland, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, China and the European Union will sign the accord at a two-day meeting that takes place almost a year after an agreement in principle was reached.
The initial term of the agreement is 16 years after which it will automatically be extended every five years unless and until science-based fisheries quotas and rules are put in place.
In 2015, the U.S., Canada, Norway, Greenland and Russia issued a declaration that they would voluntarily refrain from fishing in the high Arctic. They also pledged to seek a binding agreement with non-Arctic countries that operate commercial fishing fleets in distant waters.
Similar precautionary Arctic fisheries plans were put into place by the U.S. off the northern coast of Alaska in 2009 and by Canada in collaboration with Inuvialuit officials in 2014.
In 2012, more than 2,000 scientists from around the world called on Arctic countries to take precautionary action in the Central Arctic Ocean. And in 2014, the Inuit Circumpolar Council called for a fisheries moratorium in these waters until adequate scientific research and management measures could be ensured.
Although commercial fishing has not yet begun in the Central Arctic Ocean, increased melting of Arctic sea ice in recent summers has resulted in open water in up to 42 percent of the area covered by the agreement.
Ocean Conservancy is working to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. Together with our partners, we create science-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit oceanconservancy.org, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.