Canada, U.S., Denmark Want Fishing Moratorium on Arctic Ocean

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | February 26, 2014 5:16 PM EST

Canada, the U.S. and Denmark, three of the five-member Arctic nations, want to impose a fishing moratorium in the region as the ice starts to melt, and fast.

Scientists had forecast the Arctic Ocean will be free of ice possibly before mid-century. Once this happens, global nations are sure to make a beeline to draw up plans for shipping and hydrocarbon exploitation. Even simple and small fishing boats will gain access to whatever has lived undisturbed there for hundreds of years.

"Until recently, the region has been covered with sea ice throughout the year, creating a physical barrier to the fisheries," some 2,000 global scientists wrote in an open letter to the Arctic governments. "A commercial fishery in the central Arctic Ocean is now possible and feasible," but it will damage the eco-system in the area, including the seals, whales and polar bears, and the people who use them for food.

Representatives from the three nations will meet in Greenland next week to discuss and draw up plans that would support a ban on commercial fishing in the high Arctic ocean waters.

Among the proposals include banning commercial fisheries from operating beyond the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of the five countries.

Once the five Arctic nations have finalised and agreed to a fishing moratorium, the group will approach China, Japan annd Korea as well as other countries with major commercial fishing fleets to negotiate full protection for the central Arctic Ocean, David Benton, of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, said.

"There's no science yet telling us how many fish are up there and so starting fishing a population where you don't even know the baseline, that could be a disaster," Scott Highleyman international Arctic director of the Pew Environmental Group in the United States, said.

Daniel Pauly, a professor at the University of British Columbia's center for fishery, said the cold Arctic waters hardly produces high fish productivity. Nothing grows fast there, he said.

Allowing commercial operations to pluck off large numbers of fish would quickly deplete the resource in the region, he added.

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