Nine nations and the European Union have agreed to ban commercial fishing in the central Arctic Ocean (CAO) for a minimum of 16 years.
The moratorium was signed by officials from Norway, Russia, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, the United States, South Korea, China, Japan, and the EU following a sixth negotiating session in Washington DC.
There are currently no fisheries in the CAO, which extends across 2.8 million square kilometres — an area roughly the size of the Mediterranean Sea. However, increased melting of sea ice in recent summers has created open water in up to 40% of the region covered by the moratorium.
International law currently permits fishing in these waters in the absence of an agreement.
The pact will allow scientists to study the existing marine ecosystem in the Arctic before it is impacted by commercial activity.
“For the first time, nations are committing to scientific research in a high seas area before commercial fishing begins,” says Scott Highleyman, vice-president of conservation policy and programs at Ocean Conservancy who also served on the US delegation negotiating the agreement.
“This precautionary action recognizes both the pace of change in the Arctic due to climate change as well as the tradition of Arctic cooperation across international boundaries.”
While the initial term of the moratorium is 16 years, it will automatically be extended every five years unless a country objects or until research-based fisheries quotas are established.