The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) voted unanimously to close off more than 150,000 square nautical miles of the Arctic sea to commercial fishing. The decision, welcomed by an array of environmentalists and industry groups, is a preventative measure to protect fisheries that have become more accessible as a result of declining sea ice in the Arctic. It is the first time that the federal government has closed a fishery due to climate change instead of over-fishing, says supporters of the ban.
“Today’s decision signals a new day in the Arctic, where science comes first and where we think about the consequences of our actions before we take them,” said Janis Searles Jones, vice president with Ocean Conservancy. “This proactive decision by the Council removes one source of additional stress, giving the Arctic, its peoples and animals a better chance to adapt to the changes. We call on drilling and shipping industries to follow the Council’s leadership to help keep the Arctic environment healthy.”
Commercial fisheries closure in the Arctic.
“As goes the Arctic, so goes the planet. We must wake up and recognize that in reality, we are all on thin ice,” added Jim Ayers, vice president of Oceana. “The Arctic Ocean is a unique place vital to the people in the region and the Earth’s health. The NPFMC is leading the way toward a science- based precautionary approach and this action — the largest of its kind– is a model for management of our Arctic Ocean.”
The moratorium does not apply to existing sites in the Bering Sea, but areas that have only recently become accessible due to warming. The ban would last until a scientific assessment of the impacts of warming in the area is completed.
Disappearing sea ice is expected to open up a wave of commercial activity in the Arctic. Countries are already scrambling to make claims over the region’s thought-to-be plentiful resources, including oil and gas deposits, mineral reserves, shipping lanes, and fisheries.
Trawler in Alaska
The closure will help reduce risks from overfishing in U.S. waters.
“Protecting our Arctic waters from a rush of commercial development is a wise move. The cumulative effect of commercial fishing and shipping, as well as open-ended oil and gas development could be devastating to this highly fragile system if not done correctly,” said Josh Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group. “Rarely are we given a chance to put an area’s value as an ecosystem ahead of its commercial potential. Too often we get it wrong by depleting resources first and then backpedaling to return a place to its former grandeur.”
David Benton, executive director of the Marine Conservation Alliance, an industry group based in Juneau, Alaska told Leslie Kaufman of the New York Times that “the majority of fish harvesters and processors in the region and supports the new rules”.
In Alaska, fishing industry drives marine conservation
Alaska’s fisheries are some of the richest in the world, with fishermen harvesting hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of salmon, crab, herring, halibut, pollock, and groundfish every year. However, such bounty has not always been the case. Over-exploitation and poor fisheries management in the 1940s and 1950s took a heavy toll on the industry. Born of this difficult origin, today Alaska sets the bar in fisheries management. Unusually for natural resource management, industry is leading the way, relying on dialog with scientists to determine catch levels and where to designate “no-fishing zones”, while pushing for certification standards for sustainable seafood products. These efforts are coordinated by the Marine conservation Alliance (MCA), an industry-backed nonprofit based in Juneau, Alaska. In July 2007, David Benton, executive director of the Marine conservation Alliance, spoke with mongabay.com about MCA’s work in Alaska.
How to save the world’s oceans from overfishing
Global fishing stocks are in trouble. After expanding from 18 millions tons in 1950 to around 94 million tons in 2000, annual world fish catch has leveled off and may even be declining. Scientists estimate that the number of large predatory fish in the oceans has fallen by 90 percent since the 1950s, while about one-quarter of the world’s fisheries are overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion. Despite these dire trends, the situation is changing. Today some of the world’s largest environmental groups are focused on addressing the health of marine life and oceans, while sustainable fisheries management is at the top of the agenda for intergovenmental bodies. At the forefront of these efforts is Mike Sutton, director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s conservation program: the Center for the Future of the Oceans. The aquarium, which has long been recognized as one of the world’s most important marine research facilities, is pioneering new strategies for protecting the planet’s oceans. Sutton says the approach has four parts: establishing new marine protected areas, pushing for ocean policy reform, promoting sustainable seafood, and protecting wildlife and marine ecosystems.
The long-ignored ocean emergency and what can be done to address it
This year has been full of bad news regarding marine ecosystems: one-third of coral species threatened with extinction, dead-zones spread to 415 sites, half of U.S. reefs in fair or bad condition, increase in ocean acidification, tuna and shark populations collapsing, and only four percent of ocean considered pristine. Jeremy Jackson, director of the Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the University of California, San Diego, synthesizes such reports and others into a new paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the Naional Academy of Sciences, that boldly lays out the scope of the oceanic emergency and what urgently needs to be done.