Randy Boswell, CanWest News Service, February 14, 2009
A U.S. report urging a moratorium on Arctic Ocean fisheries north of Alaska is putting pressure on Canada to produce its own sustainable, long-term strategy for managing what scientists believe could become a major new resource in the polar region's warming waters.
The proposed ban on Arctic fishing by the U.S. North Pacific Fishery Management Council - at least until researchers can fully assess the impact of climate change and the retreat of sea ice on fish populations widely believed to be moving northward - was quickly hailed by environmentalists as a prudent and proactive response to the potential bonanza for northern fishing fleets.
"The environment in the Alaskan Arctic is changing, with warming trends in ocean temperatures and changes in seasonal sea ice conditions potentially favouring the development of commercial fisheries," the council concluded. But it argued that the U.S. government should "close the Arctic to commercial fishing so that unregulated fishing does not occur ... until information improves so that fishing can be conducted sustainably and with due concern to other ecosystem components."
Michael Byers, a University of British Columbia expert in polar politics, says Canada needs to at least consider similar measures to protect and foster a potentially lucrative Arctic fishery.
"What happens when - as is likely - biological activity between Canada's Arctic islands [and] in Hudson Bay and the Beaufort Sea spikes as a result of disappearing sea ice and the consequent increase in photosynthesis?" he asks. "Serious attention does need to be directed to the issue, and certain guiding principles applied, including the precautionary principle and a principle of first access for indigenous peoples."
Byers notes that securing sustainable aboriginal access to Arctic fish resources is important "not just for equity reasons, but because privileging Inuit fishermen could also strengthen Canada's sovereignty claims" in the Far North. ...
For the full text, see: Arctic fishing report places pressure on Canada