An agreement to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the central Arctic Ocean is now “in reach”, following the fourth round of international negotiations, which took place in Reykjavik last week.
The European Union participated in the meeting and Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, said: “I am encouraged by the commitment of all parties to take measures to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the high seas area of the central Arctic Ocean. A final agreement is now in reach. Safeguarding healthy marine ecosystems in the central Arctic is a priority in the EU’s Arctic policy as well as its ocean governance initiative. This agreement would fill an important gap in the current ocean governance system.”
The Arctic region is warming at almost twice the global average rate. Over time, rising temperatures and shrinking ice cover may make fish stocks more productive and lead to changes in their spatial distributions. As a result, the Arctic high seas areas may become attractive for commercial fisheries in the medium to long term. Yet so far, most of the Arctic high seas are not covered by any international conservation and management regime.
Against this background, the meeting in Reykjavik brought together delegations from Canada, the People’s Republic of China, the Kingdom of Denmark (in respect of the Faroes Islands and Greenland), the European Union, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Kingdom of Norway, the Russian Federation, and the United States.
Delegations made good progress on a draft for a legally binding agreement. This text would be a first step for possibly moving towards one or more regional fisheries management organisations or arrangements for the Central Arctic Ocean. Another round of negotiations will take place in the near future, with a view to finalising the text.
Sound stewardship of the high seas parts of the Central Arctic Ocean has a prominent place in the EU’s integrated Arctic policy as well as under the EU’s Ocean Governance initiative. This includes a responsible approach towards Arctic marine resources while respecting the rights of indigenous peoples. Since 2009, the EU has maintained that no commercial fisheries should begin in the Arctic high seas before a science-based and precautionary management regime is in place. In particular, the EU would support a multilateral agreement that prevents unregulated high seas fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean until a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation or Arrangement is in place.