Fishing at the North Pole might seem ludicrous to a world raised on the notion of the top of the world as a deep-frozen wasteland, but at the rate the Arctic Ocean is melting it may not be long before fishing trawlers can operate in waters that have been inaccessible for more than 800,000 years.
So it was a good idea for the five nations that have territorial claims around the Arctic Ocean – the U.S., Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark – to put a “No Fishing” sign on the high seas portion of the central Arctic until full scientific studies have been conducted.
The declaration to prevent unregulated fishing in the central Arctic acknowledged that fishing beyond the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of the coastal states is not likely to start in the near future. But it is not too early to take precautions: The annual “State of the Climate” report by the American Meteorological Society disclosed the highest average sea surface temperatures on record last year, with especially high temperatures in the northern Pacific.
It’s a good idea, too, because the agreement by the five nations provides a template for the kind of cooperation that is critical as the melting ice opens vast new commercial possibilities, including shipping lanes and access to deposits of oil, gas and minerals.
The fishing moratorium does not prevent the five nations from fishing in their own territorial waters (the U.S. has banned commercial fishing in its exclusive economic zone off Alaska’s North Slope since 2009), nor is it binding on other countries, Asian or European, that are watching the great northern thaw with interest. But the declaration explicitly invites other countries to join in the process of developing fishing regulations when commercial fishing becomes possible in the central Arctic Ocean.
The U.S., which holds the rotating chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the eight-nation group that is supposed to promote cooperation around the top of the world, has made protection of the Arctic from the consequences of climate change a top priority. Given the rapid changes in that region, the fishing ban hasn’t come too soon.
– New York Times