Sunday, February 15, 2009

Arctic Industrial Fishing: hands off for now

With the effects of climate change becoming more apparent above the Arctic Circle, commercial interests - ranging from fishing, drilling, and shipping - are lining up to take advantage of reduced sea ice and more open seas year-round. But do we take a more prudent course and allow scientific research to take place first to determine what, if any, detrimental effects may occur? A step in that direction is coming to pass regarding industrial fishing (large scale commercial fishing).

The North Pacific Fishing Management Council (NPFMC), a government council affiliated with NOAA, recently voted unanimously to prevent the expansion of industrial fishing in U.S. waters north of the Bering Strait. This establishes one of the largest precautionary measures in the history of fisheries management.

Warming water temperatures are pushing many fish species northward and with the associated melting sea ice, there will be tremendous pressure from commercial fishing operations to move into these northern regions. However, we are just now seeing the effects of climate change but do not have the scientific data to accurately document the implications on indigenous human and wildlife populations or other ecosystems - particularly from the possible effects of increased commercial operations. This recommendation from the NPFMC provides time to study Pandora's box before we open it.

The NPFMC's recommendation is both prudent and bold. The National Marine Fisheries Service will need to review/approve the recommendation before submitting for federal approval by the end of the year. It is expected to move forward, based on the new political climate in Washington with a new administration, and it could serve as a template for other future policies regarding international conservation of the Arctic Circle.

Read a press release from Oceana.

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