OSLO, Norway, July 19, 2015 (ENS) – The five states that surround the central Arctic Ocean on Thursday signed a declaration to prevent unregulated commercial fishing on the high seas of the 1.1 million-square-mile so-called “donut hole” in that icy ocean that fall under no country’s jurisdiction.

This part of the Arctic Ocean has been locked in ice year-round until just a few years ago, but now a warming climate is making it accessible in the summer months.

Even so, the declaration – signed by Canada, Denmark representing Greenland, Norway, Russia and the United States – acknowledges that commercial fishing in this area of Arctic Ocean is unlikely to occur in the near future.


A U.S. Coast Guard plane flies over the Arctic Ocean during a study of sea ice, ocean and atmosphere conditions, Sept. 2014. (Photo by John F. Williams courtesy U.S. Navy)

Still, the nations decided, the reduction of Arctic sea ice and other environmental changes in the Arctic, combined with the limited scientific knowledge about marine resources in this area, require a precautionary approach to prevent unregulated fishing in the area.

To that end, the five countries declared that they will authorize their vessels to conduct any future commercial fishing in this area only once one or more international mechanisms are in place to manage any such fishing in accordance with recognized international standards.

They also intend to establish a joint program of scientific research with the aim of improving understanding of the ecosystems of this area.

Just over 400 fish species are known from Arctic seas and adjacent waters. The dominant Arctic fish families are cods, eelpouts, snailfishes, sculpins, and salmonids, according to scientists with the Arctic Ocean Diversity, based at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

One of the key species in the Arctic is the Arctic cod, Boreogadus saida, because it is a critical link between lower levels of the food chain and the top predators – birds, seals and whales.

The Arctic cod is the most northerly gadid, a family of fishes that includes cod, haddock, whiting, and pollack.

Unlike most other oceans, commercial fisheries do not currently exist in the high Arctic, although they are extensive in the sub-Arctic southern Barents and southeastern Bering Seas.

The lack of high-Arctic fisheries catch and by-catch data means even basic knowledge is lacking. The Arctic Ocean Diversity scientists say that the traditional methods of collecting fish by trawls do not work well in ice-covered waters, making it difficult even today to advance our understanding of fish biodiversity and biology.

The declaration recognizes that other nations may have interests in preventing unregulated high seas fisheries in this area. It suggests the initiation of a broader process that would include commitments by all interested states.

The United States assumed the two-year rotating chairmanship of the Arctic Council on April 24, 2015.

The declaration signed in Oslo builds on U.S. action in 2009 to prohibit commercial fishing in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone north of the Bering Strait until better scientific information to support sound fisheries management is available.

The United States initiated this five-state process consistent with congressional direction under Public Law 110-243, which calls for the United States to take steps with other Arctic nations to negotiate an agreement for managing fish stocks in the Arctic Ocean, as well as the Implementation Plan for the 2013 National Strategy for the Arctic Region, which commits the United States to prevent unregulated high seas fisheries in the Arctic.

Globally, illegal and unregulated fishing is worth more than US20 billion.

The Oslo declaration extends the work Norway initiated in March to activate new international cooperation against financial crime in the fisheries sector.

The North Atlantic Fisheries Intelligence Group was founded in Oslo with the participation of Norway, Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Denmark and Iceland to uncover economic crime in the fishing industry.

Norway’s Minister of Fisheries Elisabeth Aspaker said then, “Illegal fishing and trading is not only a threat to sustainability and the environment, it also provides the basis for a vast black economy. The fisheries sector is international and knows no boundaries, and we must have zero tolerance for illegal fishing, whether it happens in our waters or elsewhere.”

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