Commercial fishing is becoming a big business at the top of the earth, and as you’ve probably heard, commercial fishing usually ain’t exactly the greatest thing for fish. But nine nations and the European Union just agreed to ban commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean for at least the next 16 years. They’re doing it so that researchers can better study the ecology of the area, which, if you’re a believer in facts, at least, is thawing really, really fast.
In 2012, NASA reported that the amount of ice covering the Arctic Ocean hit its lowest level in three decades. Since the water is warmer and the ocean is expanding, more fish are moving in. That, of course, is a real boon for the fishing industry–more fish and less ice means more opportunity. “In the past, when new patches of fish were discovered,” wrote Rod Fu­jita, director of research and development for the Environmental Defence Fund’s Oceans program, “they have been rapidly exploited, and sometimes overexploited.”
Just a few decades ago, much the high Arctic was mostly impenetrable. Now, however, vast swathes of previously frozen areas are breaking apart, opening up new trading routes and commercial fishing areas. According to IFLScience, “compared to other regions in the world, parts of the Arctic are warming twice as fast.
Once all the governments in the moratorium have signed off, they’ll be part of a program that looks at fish populations and just how much damage commercial fishing is doing. It’s an amazing agreement, considering who’s involved, especially considering today’s political climate: the United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, China, Japan, South Korea, Iceland, and the European Union.
Map shows the central Arctic Ocean, the area closed to fishing under the Arctic Fisheries. Image: Pew
Map shows the central Arctic Ocean, the area closed to fishing under the Arctic Fisheries. Image: Pew
“This is a landmark agreement,” said David Balton, the deputy assistant secretary for oceans and fisheries at the State Department, to The New York Times. “It’s a rare case of governments doing something in advance, to prevent a problem from arising.”
The ban covers a vast area–about 1.1 million square miles in the zone above Alaska. “In the future, if fish stocks are plentiful enough to support a commercial fishery there, they will be part of the management system and presumably their vessels will have the opportunity to fish for those stocks,” Balton told Reuters.
The deal automatically renews every five years, or until one government decides to back out or all of them come to some kind of agreement, depending on the results of the research.
“There is no other high seas area where we’ve decided to do the science first,” Scott Highleyman, vice president of conservation policy and programs at the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C., said to Reuters. “It’s a great example of putting the precautionary principle into action.”