Historic Arctic Fishing Protections Take Effect
Regulations close the Arctic in a precautionary move to allow for more science before commercial fishing; Oceana calls for using this approach for other industrial activities
Press Release Date: December 3, 2009
Location: Washington, D.C.
Final regulations protecting almost 200,000 square miles of U.S. Arctic waters from industrial fishing go into effect December 3, 2009. The new regulations close all U.S. waters north of Alaska’s Bering Strait to commercial fishing to allow time for more science to assess the health of Arctic Ocean ecosystems. Strikingly little is known about Arctic marine ecosystems and the potential impacts of large-scale fishing, especially given the Arctic is already facing rapid climate change and ocean acidification. The regulations do not affect subsistence fishing, and are in fact designed to help protect Arctic Ocean ecosystems and subsistence. Conservationists hailed the regulations and called for a similar approach for other industries and in other nations.
“This is a historic occasion, and the dawn of a new day where sound science and proactive management lead the way to sustainability, instead of fish now and look later,” said Dr. Chris Krenz, Arctic Project Manager for Oceana. “We cannot afford to not look before we leap with industrialization in the Arctic, especially when we know Arctic ecosystems are likely sensitive and already stressed by rapid climate change and ocean acidification.”
Conservationists are holding up the new Arctic fisheries plan as a model for how other nations should approach fisheries management in the seasonally ice covered Arctic and how other industries can and should approach the Arctic, particularly the oil industry. The historic Arctic fishing closure provides a striking contrast to Arctic oil and gas policies, particularly so with announcements expected in coming days from the Interior department on Shell’s drilling plans for the Chukchi Sea and the release of a new Five Year Plan for oil leasing that may offer wide areas of the Arctic Ocean to drilling.
“One of the reasons Americans elected President Obama is because they were tired of science being ignored and manipulated for political gain. The Arctic fishing protections exemplify the approach of making wise decisions based on science,” said Krenz. “The American public wants to see the science conducted and proven emergency response capabilities put in place before MMS allows Shell to drill away in fragile Arctic ecosystems, especially when MMS records indicate drilling is likely to bring a major spill to the Arctic.”
The Arctic is home to thousands of people who extensively use ocean ecosystems in their subsistence way of life practiced for generations. Climate change and ocean acidification are already placing stress on those ecosystems, and adding additional stressors from fishing, shipping or oil and gas activities could push them past the brink. Arctic communities showed strong support for the Arctic fishing protections and have expressed concern that activities from oil and gas, including seismic testing and the risk of oil spills, could adversely impact bowhead whales and other animals that are vital sources of food for local peoples.