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Before negotiators agree on an Arctic fishing moratorium, it is looking increasingly likely they will need to agree on the next place to meet
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Norex 2017

Depending on who you ask, the likelihood that negotiations over regulations to impose a moratorium on fishing in the central part of the Arctic Ocean will end with an agreement by the end of the day tomorrow falls somewhere between slim and ‘who’s going to host the next meeting?’

The five Arctic coastal states (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the US) together with China, South Korea, Japan, Iceland and the EU, all of which have the potential to fish in the Arctic Ocean, have been meeting in Reykjavík since Wednesday and have set a deadline of tomorrow to come up with an deal before agreeing to break up and await another round.

This is the fifth time the ten has sat down to discuss the details of keeping the central Arctic Ocean off limits to commercial fishing until sufficient scientific knowledge is available to ensure that its impacts are understood, and that any fishing that is done can be adequately managed.

SEE RELATED: Before the thaw

For now, such fishing is only theoretical: sea ice still renders the area in question inaccessible to fishing vessels year round, but there are no regulations that would apply to the area should fishing there ever become feasible. Squaring an agreement away before that happens, everyone seems to agree, is a wise course of action.

“What makes these negotiations special,” Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Iceland’s foreign minister, and the host of the meeting, said in a statement, “is that we are working to set up a global legal framework and an international mechanism to prevent the over-exploitation of a fish stock in the future.”

If a fifth meeting was unexpected – US officials said in October they expected an agreement would be struck during the fourth meeting, held in Tórshavn, in the Faroe Islands, at the end of November – a sixth was looking highly likely even before the current meeting started.

Significant progress was said to have been made in Tórshavn, but the list of issues that still needed to be worked out when the meeting ended was long, and includes issues such as exploratory fishing, regional fisheries management organisations and decision-making procedures.

SEE RELATED: Fishing states gather for new round of moratorium talks

One of the biggest things that is said to be slowing things down is whether the framework Mr Þórðarson mentioned should be legally binding. The previous administration in Washington was known to be working towards a legally binding agreement. This is a position that is reportedly still widely held among the other parties, but there are holdouts.

Other issues, such as whether all countries would need to sign on to the agreement together, must also be worked out before a moratorium can become final.

After Tórshavn, David Balton, the American diplomat who is heading the negotiations, underscored in his final statment that all of the delegations remained committed to reaching an agreement in the near future. That sounds like a clear case of agreeing to agree. Agreeing on when to agree on what is in the agreement is looking rather trickier.