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Officials from 10 countries have reached a legally binding agreement to abstain from commercial fishing in 1.1 million square miles of the Central Arctic Ocean for at least 16 years, while research is conducted to learn more about marine life there. The area is roughly the size of the Mediterranean Sea.
The document was signed in Washington, D.C. on November 30 by representatives from the United States, Canada, Norway, Russia, Greenland, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, China and the European Union, said Scott Highleyman, a member of the U.S. delegation.
Delegates must now undertake a legal and technical review of the agreement’s provisions, and seek final approval of their respective governments to sign the document.
“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,” said Highleyman, who is vice president of conservation policy and programs at Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit entity working to protect the ocean from global challenges.
The agreement will establish and operate a joint program of scientific research and monitoring aimed at improving the understanding of the area’s ecosystem, and, in particular, determining whether fish stocks might exist in this area that could be harvested on a sustainable basis. The agreement envisions the possibility that one or more additional regional fisheries management organizations or arrangements may be established for this areas in the future.
The agreement came two years after the U.S., Canada, Norway, Greenland and Russia issued a declaration that they would voluntarily refrain from fishing in the high Arctic. They also pledged to work toward a binding agreement with non-Arctic nations operating commercial fishing fleets in distant waters. Similar precautionary Arctic fisheries plans were enacted by the U.S. off the northern coast of Alaska in 2009 and by Canada in 2014 in collaboration with Inuvialuit officials. More than 2,000 scientists from around the world, called on Arctic countries in 2012 to take similar precautionary action in the Central Arctic Ocean.
While the initial term of the agreement is 16 years, it is to be automatically extended every five years until science based fisheries quotas and rules are put into place, Ocean Conservancy said.
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