Climate change is so quickly melting the far north that nine nations and the European Union just agreed to prohibit commercial fishing in the high seas of the Arctic for at least 16 years. (National Geographic)
Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.
- The new agreement outlining the future of fishing in the Arctic ocean basin is called the “Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean.” What are high seas fisheries?
- “High seas” or “open ocean” refer to parts of the ocean not under the jurisdiction of any country or nation. These areas are outside any nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). An EEZ extends 200 nautical miles off a country’s coastline.
- A fishery describes the industry of harvesting fish. Fisheries are often considered by species (cod fishery, tuna fishery) or region (North Atlantic fishery, Hawaiian fishery).
- What nations have negotiated the “Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean”? For some help, read through the great Nat Geo article and our own study guide explaining why the Arctic is such a polarizing region.
- Arctic nations. Five nations border the Arctic Circle, have EEZs in the Arctic Ocean, and have expressed at least some claims to the North Pole: Canada, Russia, Norway, the United States, and Greenland (part of the Kingdom of Denmark).
- nations with big Arctic fishing fleets. China, Japan, Iceland, South Korea, and the 28 member states of the European Union have some of the biggest fishing fleets in the world. In particular, these nations have the biggest fishing fleets active in the North Pacific and North Atlantic ocean basins, just south of the newly protected territory in the Arctic. (Other nations, such as Peru and Indonesia, may have bigger fisheries, but these are largely based outside the Arctic region.)
- What is remarkable about the new agreement?
- Ten of the most powerful political entities on Earth came to consensus around an economic and environmental issue. “Some countries were more interested in Arctic conservation, others in a future that included fishing. Some wanted the region off limits for many decades, others just a few years.”
- The agreement is relatively long-term—a ban on commercial fishing for 16 years. In addition, representatives will meet every two years to share information.
- Caveat: “Any country could seek to begin an orderly move toward commercial fishing [before the 16 years is up]. But all decisions, under the agreement, will be made by consensus.”
- The agreement is a tacit acknowledgment of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change. The Arctic is not being heavily fished now, as it is largely covered in ice. This agreement recognizes a near future in which the Arctic is ice-free.
- Countries rarely agree to restrict economic industries. Why are these nations agreeing to entirely ban commercial fishing in the Arctic?
- Well, “No one currently fishes commercially in the high seas of the Arctic Ocean.” So, nothing is really going to change and these countries are not losing any economic industry. They’re just pumping the brakes on future development in that area.
- The agreement does not restrict commercial fishing or other extractive activities in a nation’s EEZ. Fishing, offshore drilling, and deep-sea mining within 200 miles of a country’s coast will continue to operate within the laws of each individual country.
- Does this historic agreement prohibit all fishing in the Arctic for 16 years?
- No. Countries that have not signed the agreement may, at some point, legally begin fishing the high seas of the Arctic. (This is not happening now.)
- The agreement only addresses commercial fishing. Indigenous groups or local tourist operations may, at some point, legally engage in subsistence fishing or sport fishing outside their local EEZ. (This is not happening now, and, frankly, is unlikely in the future.)
Nat Geo: The Arctic Region activity
Nat Geo: Arctic reference resource
Nat Geo: Polarizing Region study guide