The five Arctic states that ring the central Arctic – Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia, the United States – have agreed to a moratorium on commercial fishing.
The moratorium will stop any fishing fleets based in those countries from exploiting the central Arctic, which is beyond the national jurisdiction of any state. But it does not apply to any other states, some of which have industrial fishing fleets around the area.
“The next step for this agreement is for states such as China, Spain, Japan, the UK and South Korea to sign on also,” said Alexander Shestakov of WWF’s Global Arctic Programme.
“These Arctic Council observer states say they support the integrity of the Arctic environment – this is a good opportunity for them to prove it.”
WWF believes that the Arctic countries should also apply precautionary measures to commercial fishing within their own national waters that were not previously commercially exploited. This is a step that has already been taken by the United States, and by Canada in the Beaufort Sea.
The organisation urged the Arctic states to continue to ensure engagement with the people of the north, particularly Indigenous peoples who have an interest in the potential for commercial fisheries.
The areas formerly covered by ice in the Arctic are largely unexploited, and also unknown in terms of what fish are there now.
They are also in a dynamic situation due to climate change, with fish such as cod that are sensitive to temperature changes increasingly moving northward.
The moratorium agreed to by Arctic states is set to remain until enough knowledge exists of central Arctic fish stocks to allow sustainable harvest, and there is a mechanism in place to control any fishing.