As permanent sea ice melts, the international waters of the Central Arctic Ocean are becoming accessible to commercial fishing fleets for the first time. Meanwhile, climate change is causing dramatic shifts in the marine ecosystem of this region that spans 1.1 million square miles of the high Arctic.
That’s why officials from nine countries and the European Union are signing an historic accord in October 2018 to ban commercial fishing for at least 16 years while scientists conduct research to learn more about the marine life in these waters. After the initial term, the legally binding agreement will automatically be extended every five years unless and until science-based fisheries quotas and rules are put in place.
“For the first time, nations are committing to scientific research in a high seas area before commercial fishing begins.”vice-president of conservation policy and programs at Ocean Conservancy who also served on the U.S. delegation negotiating the agreement
A joint program of scientific research will be set up by the 10 parties to the agreement: the United States, Canada, Norway, Russia, Greenland, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, China and the European Union. Arctic scientists and experts have been meeting informally to offer advice on this exciting new program of study.
This precautionary fisheries agreement comes after six years of negotiations and was prompted by increasing concern about the impacts of a rapidly warming Arctic. A new analysis by Ocean Conservancy of satellite data shows a significant decline in both the thickness of sea ice in the Central Arctic Ocean and its extent. 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.
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