New treaty bans commercial fishing in the Arctic for 16 years

The European Union and nine other countries, including the US and Russia, approved an international agreement on Thursday (14 February) that will prohibit commercial vessels from fishing in the Arctic in order to preserve the region’s fragile ecosystem.

The agreement aims to reduce the environmental impact of unregulated commercial fishing in the Arctic high seas by banning trawling for 16 years.

The treaty has an automatic renewal clause every five years and was signed by Canada, China, Denmark, Iceland, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Norway, Russia and the USA in addition to the EU. It will enter into force once ratified by all ten parties.

An area of about 2.8 million square kilometres of the central Arctic high seas will be protected as a result, in order to try and “safeguard healthy marine ecosystems, ensuring the conservation of fish stocks and guarantee the sustainability of the fishing activities,” according to a statement from the European Parliament.

There is currently no commercial fishing taking place in this area because it was previously covered in ice. But as ocean conditions change, it will be possible for fishing vessels to enter these new areas in the future.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world and this displacement is affecting the oceans and fish populations. The new deal is a precautionary approach to fisheries management, an EU source told EURACTIV.

It is the first time that the international community has refrained from commercial fishing in a particular area before more is known about its ecosystem.

Arctic nations bet on ‘blue economy’ to reconcile climate, development goals

From global warming to over- and illegal fishing, the ocean on which Arctic communities are so heavily dependent is under threat like never before, delegates heard at the Arctic conference in Tromsø, Norway.

“The Commission hopes that, from this Agreement, the parties will work together under the Joint Program of Scientific Research and Monitoring in order to improve the understanding of the ecosystems of this area and, in particular, of determining whether fish stocks might exist in this area that could be harvested on a sustainable basis,” the EU source said.

The EU estimates that about 15% of fishing is done illegally and without regulation, amounting to up to 26 million tonnes of fish each year.

Commercial fishing impact

EU fishing association Europêche welcomed the agreement and said its fishermen had already committed a few years ago not to commercially fish in this zone.

“Our operators support the efforts made by the international community to better understand this particular ecosystem and ensure the conservation and sustainable use of fish stocks in the area,” a Europêche source told EURACTIV.

Commercial fishing negatively impacts the ocean through overfishing, pollution from nets and equipment, and destruction from trawling and dredging. More than 30% of the world’s fisheries are being pushed beyond their limits and overfishing alters ecosystems.

Many fish stocks are on the verge of collapse as a result and regulations are sometimes necessary to keep the fishing industry sustainable.

Climatic conditions in the northern Arctic Ocean are changing fast and, despite its great economic potential, the future of fishing there is uncertain, the European Parliament said.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon and Zoran Radosavljevic]

Avoid politicising Arctic issues, expert warns

The Arctic has so far been largely conflict-free. If this ever changes, it will probably be the result of a spillover from other parts of the world, Arctic expert Svein Rottem told EURACTIV.com in an interview, in which he spoke about Arctic governance and the EU’s role in the region.

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