The Arctic Ocean has long been protected from unsustainable resource exploitation due to its large ice pack. But global warming has caused the sea ice to retreat, opening new areas of the Arctic to commercial fishing. Some 2,000 scientists have come together to urge governments to develop an international fisheries agreement to protect the waters of the central Arctic Ocean
Until now, commercial fishing beyond the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of the five Arctic coastal states (Russia, Norway, Denmark, Canada and the U.S.), has been restricted due to the year-round ice pack. In 2007 the ice pack fell to its lowest level on record—40% of the ocean became open water. Some scientists believe this area could become ice-free during summer months within 10-15 years.
The territory that’s now opened up is located in less regulated international waters, and there have been relatively few fishing stock surveys completed in the Arctic. Without hard data, there is no way of assessing the degree of impact commercial fishing would have on bird and mammal species, not to mention native coastal populations.
“The science community currently does not have sufficient biological information to understand the presence, abundance, structure, movements, and health of fish stocks and the role they play in the broader ecosystem of the central Arctic Ocean,” states the letter, released by the Pew Environment Group on April 22, 2012.
The open letter, signed by scientists from 67 countries, requests a moratorium on commercial fishing in the Arctic until proper studies can be done to determine the possible impacts on the ecosystem and until sustainable fishing quotas have been set.