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Casting their nets

Fishing states gather for new round of moratorium talks

Editor’s Briefing | Arctic coastal states have agreed a moratorium on fishing in Arctic high seas. But, to make it work, they must have other big fishing countries on board

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The central part of the Arctic Ocean, experts admit, is probably not a place where you will find commercial fishing stocks. But as waters warm and ice recedes (40% of the area was ice-free at the end of the record-setting 2012 season) this may change.

It is with this in mind that nine countries and the EU will be gathering from July 6 to 8 in Iqaluit to carry on efforts, begun in 2009, that seek to determine on whether a moratorium om fishing in the central Arctic Ocean is necessary.

So far, that process seems to indicate that they do.

SEE RELATED: The Arctic Five strike again

The point of delaying the start of commercial fishing in the portion of the Arctic Ocean that lies beyond the exclusive economic zones of the five Arctic coastal states (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the US) would be to give scientists time to determine what its impact would be, and to better understand how the ecosystem functions in order to determine whether and what types of fishing would be permitted.

The first notable result of this process came in 2014, when, during a largely unnoticed meeting in Nuuk, representatives from Arctic coastal states and China, Japan and South Korea came to an agreement that, while stopping short of setting up a moratorium (mostly due to the likelihood that fishing will not happen any time soon), recognised “the desirability of developing appropriate interim measures to deter unregulated fishing in the future in the high seas area of the central Arctic Ocean”.

The Arctic coastal states have since gone further: meeting alone in Oslo in 2015, they agreed among themselves to prevent their vessels from fishing in the area until an internationally recognised management programme in place.

The five countries recognised at the same time, though, that it would be necessary to have other countries with major fishing interests, as well as the EU, on board if a moratorium was to be effective.

SEE RELATED: International agreement restricts fishing in Arctic Ocean - Greenpeace reaction

Landing such an agreement has been the goal of ensuing negotiations. Iceland and the EU, both of which were added to talks during a December 2015 meeting in Washington, are said to agree with the conservation argument, and getting them aboard should be straightforward.

The Asian states seem also serious about signing on. The Koreans, for example, hosted a roundtable discussion in March that appeared to indicate that they were ready to collaborate to prevent overfishing.

But, we were told ahead of the December meeting, if Asian states do sign up, it will be because they see a political or commercial benefit of doing so. That they are showing up again speaks well of the possibility of an agreement, but, if their motives are something other than conservation, a deal may take additional meetings: their negotiators will need to return home than just a ban to show for their efforts.