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Canada; Denmark; Norway; Russia; United States: Fishing Declaration Covering Central Arctic

(July 21, 2015) Five countries that ring the Arctic Ocean, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States, signed a declaration in Oslo on July 16, 2015, designed to prevent unregulated fishing in the central part of that ocean. (Press Release, U.S. Department of State, Arctic Nations Sign Declaration to Prevent Unregulated Fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean (July 16, 2015).) The declaration followed a consensus reached in March 2014 that such an agreement was needed. (Protecting Fisheries in the High Arctic, PEW CHARITABLE TRUSTS (last visited July 20, 2015).)

The declaration recognizes that commercial fishing is not likely to begin any time soon in the part of the ocean discussed in the declaration, but states that because sea ice in the central Arctic is shrinking due to climate changes, it would be prudent to have a precautionary approach to the issue of fishing there. The signatories therefore committed to permitting commercial fishing from their coasts only once an international mechanism has been adopted to manage the activity. Furthermore, they have agreed to cooperate in joint scientific research on the region’s ecosystem. (Arctic Nations Sign Declaration to Prevent Unregulated Fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean, supra.)

The ocean north of the Bering Strait, which is recently more free of ice than it had been and is beyond the exclusive economic zones of Russia and the United States, is a particular concern of the countries involved. There is concern that fishing fleets from additional nations, including China and Japan, could now reach the area. (Andrew E. Kramer, Accord Would Regulate Fishing in Arctic Waters, NEW YORK TIMES (Apr. 16, 2013).)

Related U.S. Legal and Policy Documents

A joint resolution that passed the United States Congress in 2008 is the legal background for the U.S. side to the recent agreement. Public Law 110-243 directed “the United States to initiate international discussions and take necessary steps with other Nations to negotiate an agreement for managing migratory and transboundary fish stocks in the Arctic Ocean.” (Public Law 110-243, 122 STAT. 1569-1571 (June 3, 2008), Government Printing Office website.) In 2009, the U.S. prohibited commercial fishing in its exclusive economic zone north of the Bering Strait, pending development of scientific information on good fisheries management in the region. (Arctic Nations Sign Declaration to Prevent Unregulated Fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean, supra.)

Under the 2014 Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for the Arctic Region, written in 2013, the United States had identified as an objective the need to negotiate an international agreement on responsible fisheries management for the central Arctic Ocean before commercial fishing is permitted there. (Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for the Arctic Region (Jan. 2014), White House website.)

Perspectives from Member States

According to Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende, the Arctic coastal nations have a responsibility to study how climate change is affecting the migration patterns of fish and other developments in the Arctic region. (Press Release, Government of Norway, How to Stop Unregulated Fishing in the Arctic Ocean, available at NORWAY POST (July 20, 2015).) He emphasized, “[e]ffective protection of the fish stocks in the central Arctic Ocean requires cooperation between the coastal states and other interested states. It is therefore important that the coastal states seek to engage other states in this effort, with a view to preventing unregulated fishing in the future.” (Id.) Norway’s Minister of Fisheries, Elisabeth Aspaker, added, “Norway has already prohibited its fishermen from fishing in unregulated international waters, but it is important that the other states bordering the central Arctic Ocean are now doing the same.” (Id.)

While in 2012 Canada refrained from endorsing the plan proposed by the United States and Denmark to impose a moratorium on fishing in the polar ecosystem, by 2014 the country’s views had changed. Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries, said that Canada supported the effort to advance talks on the central Arctic and that they should include “the proposal for an interim prohibition on commercial fishing until such time it is determined if a fisheries management organization or arrangement is warranted.” (Gloria Galloway, Canada Siding with U.S., Denmark on High Arctic Fishing Moratorium, GLOBE AND MAIL (last updated Feb. 24, 2014).)

Canadian authorities consulted with Inuit groups in the country about the moratorium on fishing beyond the 200-mile limit economic zone. The officials concerned with fisheries affirmed that they believe in not allowing fishing outside the zone until they are assured that there are no adverse impacts expected within Canadian waters. (Id.)