Frozen Fishing: A Multilateral Moratorium Prevents Arctic Ocean Fishing for 16 Years, Setting Aside Some Degree of Sovereignty Disputes While Scientific Research of the Top of the World Continues

Geographical, February 2018 | Go to article overview

Frozen Fishing: A Multilateral Moratorium Prevents Arctic Ocean Fishing for 16 Years, Setting Aside Some Degree of Sovereignty Disputes While Scientific Research of the Top of the World Continues


In December, the EU, the US, Russia, China, Canada, Japan, Iceland, Denmark and South Korea--all with interests in the Arctic--agreed an official moratorium on commercial fishing across an area of 2.8 million sq km in Arctic Ocean waters. While there is as yet no commercial fishing taking place at this high latitude anyway, the 16-year moratorium insists that even as the waters become increasingly accessible for fishing vessels, the fish stocks must remain untouched, allowing relevant scientific research to continue uninterrupted.

In 2016, the Arctic sea ice minimum--a measurement showing when the sea ice extent is at its lowest each year--declined to just 4.14 million sq km, the second-lowest ever recorded. While individual years may fluctuate (2012 remains the record lowest sea ice minimum, down to only 3.41 million sq km), overall the annual minimum Arctic sea ice has declined by 13.2 per cent per decade since 1980. This has created ever-larger expanses of ice-free Arctic Ocean, resulting in debates over everything from potential shipping routes to mineral exploitation. The new moratorium places a hiatus on the ownership of fish stocks also being up for debate.

'One of the important things to realise is that [the agreement] really does only cover the central Arctic Ocean, the high seas section,' highlights Robert Headland, a senior associate at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. …

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