Commissioner Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, said: “This is an important process and I'm happy it started on a good note, with all the parties agreeing on the need for precautionary measures. It will fill an important gap in the ocean governance system.”
At present no commercial fisheries take place in the Arctic high seas, but with the Arctic region warming at almost twice the global average rate and the sea ice cover shrinking, changes in fish stocks' size and distribution may occur both in the exclusive economic zones of Arctic coastal states and in the high seas area of the Central Arctic Ocean. These areas could become attractive to commercial fisheries in the nearfuture.
Faced with this possibility and aware that most of the Arctic high seas are not covered by international conservation or management regimes, the international community met in Washington from 19 to 21 April to start negotiating an agreement that would prevent the opening up of unregulated fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean.
Delegations from Canada, the People’s Republic of China, the Kingdom of Denmark (in respect of the Faroes and Greenland), the European Union, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Kingdom of Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States were present. The second round of negotiations is to take place from 6 to 8 July 2016 in Iqaluit, Province of Nunavut, Canada. This week's meeting followed up on a first exploratory meeting held in Washington DC in December 2015.
The sound stewardship of the high seas areas of the Central Arctic Ocean has a prominent place in the EU’s Arctic policy, which advocates a responsible approach towards the Arctic marine resources while respecting the rights of the native communities. Since 2009 the EU has strongly maintained that there should be no commercial fishing on the Arctic high seas before a science-based, precautionary management framework is in place. Commissioner Vella and HRVP Mogherini are set to present a new Integrated Policy for the Arctic on 27 April.