The five states that surround the central Arctic Ocean – Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark in respect of Greenland, the Kingdom of Norway, the Russian Federation, and the United States of America – met in Oslo on July 16 to sign a declaration to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean.The declaration acknowledges that commercial fishing in this area of Arctic Ocean – which is larger than Alaska and Texas combined – is unlikely to occur in the near future. Nevertheless, the dramatic reduction of Arctic sea ice and other environmental changes in the Arctic, combined with the limited scientific knowledge about marine resources in this area, necessitate a precautionary approach to prevent unregulated fishing in the area.
To that end, the five countries stated in the declaration that they intend to authorize their vessels to conduct any future commercial fishing in this area only once one or more international mechanisms are in place to manage any such fishing in accordance with recognized international standards. They also intend to establish a joint program of scientific research with the aim of improving understanding of the ecosystems of this area.
The declaration further acknowledges that other states may have interests in preventing unregulated high seas fisheries in this area, and suggests the initiation of a broader process to develop measures consistent with the declaration that would include commitments by all interested states.
The declaration builds on U.S. action in 2009 to prohibit commercial fishing in its Exclusive Economic Zone north of the Bering Strait until better scientific information to support sound fisheries management is available. The United States initiated this five-state process consistent with congressional direction under Public Law 110-243, which calls for the United States to take steps with other Arctic nations to negotiate an agreement for managing fish stocks in the Arctic Ocean, as well as the Implementation Plan for the 2013 National Strategy for the Arctic Region, which commits the United States to prevent unregulated high seas fisheries in the Arctic.