Here’s a nugget of good news for your weekend: Global powers have agreed to prohibit commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean for at least 16 years. This moratorium will allow researchers to study the ecology of the high Arctic, which is thawing at an incredibly swift rate.
The delegation includes nations with Arctic shorelines as well as non-Arctic countries. In all, nine nations and the European Union have agreed to the legally binding agreement.
Once signed by the governments involved, the parties under its terms will be part of a joint scientific research program. This will include research into local fish populations and the effects of commercial activities in the region.
Those with Arctic shorelines include the United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark, and Norway. Those with trawling fleets but no Arctic shoreline are China, Japan, South Korea, Iceland, and the European Union.
"This is a landmark agreement," said David Balton, the deputy assistant secretary for oceans and fisheries at the State Department, to The New York Times. "It’s a rare case of governments doing something in advance, to prevent a problem from arising."
This agreement comes despite tensions between many of these nations, most notably the United States and Russia. However, both these countries have much at stake too.
The deal means none of these nations can trawl the frigid waters for 16 years, or until there is a sustainable fishing plan in place. This protects a 2.8-million-square-kilometer (1.1-million-square-mile) zone above Alaska and Chukotka.
"In the future if fish stocks are plentiful enough to support a commercial fishery there, they will be part of the management system and presumably their vessels will have the opportunity to fish for those stocks," Balton told Reuters.
The involvement of the United States is perhaps a tad surprising, considering President Trump’s climate change doubts. However, the US had already agreed to a moratorium in 2015. That had little impact, however, if the other nations did not also participate in the deal.
This agreement is much-needed: The Arctic Ocean was once an impenetrable block of ice, but as breaks in the sea ice open up due to global warming, opportunities for shipping routes are also becoming a possibility. Compared to other regions in the world, parts of the Arctic are warming twice as fast.
This rapid loss of sea ice is particularly noticeable during the summer when as much as 40 percent of the central Arctic Ocean has open water.
Scott Highleyman, an official at the Ocean Conservancy, told Reuters: “This precautionary action recognizes both the pace of change in the Arctic due to climate change as well as the tradition of Arctic cooperation across international boundaries.”
The deal will be automatically renewed every five years unless one of the parties objects or they all come to a resolution.