The United States, Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark signed an agreement today to block their own ships from fishing in the central Arctic Ocean until a full scientific evaluation of the fish stocks is completed. Specifically, scientists must assess the fish stocks and how they can be harvested sustainably before the countries will allow fishing in the seas around the North Pole.
The signing of the agreement comes more than one year after the signatory countries actually agreed on the terms. The delay in signing occurred as a result the countries’ disagreement over the Ukraine crisis. Russian president Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea in March 2014, a move that prompted the boycott of both the United States and Canada from a meeting of the Arctic Council last year in Russia. Additionally, by the spring of 2015, Canada sent troops to train Ukrainian soldiers to fight Russia-supported rebel soldiers. As recently as this month, Canada signed a free-trade deal with Ukraine, a move that is likely irritating Russia.
Despite their political differences, the signatory countries all agree that this newly-emerged ocean must be protected from overfishing and environmental degradation. These waters, which have not been accessible for greater than 800,000 years, are becoming accessible due to the melting of sea ice. Some scientists forecast that before mid-century, the sea ice in this region will be melted completely. The sea will therefore be open to influx of foreign ships, which may lead to the degrading or destruction of the environment.
As little is known about this remote area of the ocean, the agreement seeks to prevent problems before they arise. While the agreement cannot prevent boats from China, Japan, South Korea and the European Union from entering the region, the signatories hope their agreement will form the basis for an international agreement. Until that time, it is up to the signatory countries to try and protect international waters.