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Annals Of Global Warming: The Imminent Arctic Fishery

April 17, 2013

Arctic Cod: “Hey, what’s that funny net surrounding me? Never seen anything like it before.”

On the one hand, it is encouraging that the five nations that encircle Arctic waters that are increasingly ice free are moving to try and figure out how to manage the Arctic fishery before the trawler fleets move in and strip mine it:

The governments of the five countries with coastline on the Arctic have concluded that enough of the polar ice cap now melts regularly in the summertime that an agreement regulating commercial fishing near the North Pole is warranted.

Talks are scheduled for later this month among diplomats and fisheries officials from NorwayDenmarkCanada, the United States and Russia. Most concern is focused on newly ice-free waters above the Bering Strait, above the exclusive economic zones of Russia and the United States, and now accessible to trawler fleets from hungry Pacific Ocean nations like China and Japan.

An accord would protect the open water until the fish stocks there can be more fully studied.

On the other hand, the intention is not to fully protect the Arctic fishery as the ice cap has been protecting it, but only to try to protect it from catastrophic overfishing:

The fishing accord would regulate commercial harvests in an area farther offshore — in the so-called doughnut hole of the Arctic Ocean. This is a Texas-size area of international water that includes the North Pole and is encircled by the exclusive economic zones of the coastal countries.

That the center of the Arctic Ocean was unregulated was hardly a concern when it was an icebound backwater. That is changing. Last summer, 40 percent of the central Arctic Ocean melted…

…Dmitry M. Glazov, a whale biologist at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution and an authority on the marine ecosystem of the ice floes, said the waters teem with cod, herring, Greenland sharks, whales, walruses, seals and polar bears. It is unclear, though, whether the fish stocks are large enough to support a commercial fishery.

Even if the five countries agree on a fishery management plan, which is a big if, who believes it will be conservative enough, and enforced well enough, to truly conserve and sustain abundant fish stocks? I thought so.

The reality of global warming is that new ecosystems are opening up to human exploitation. The tragedy is that the possibility of preserving and NOT exploiting is somehow never part of the conversation (except on crazy blogs like this one). The Arctic is the biggest, richest ecosystem that is letting down its natural defenses. It would be inspiring if it became a test case in how nations can work together to avoid the plundering and destruction of yet another area of the planet. But fisheries management around the rest of the globe doesn’t offer much cause for optimism.

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