Protection of the central Arctic Ocean should provide a model for future agreements

6 December 2017

Governance The Last Ice Area Arctic Climate Change Canada

Update, 3 October 2018: the agreement has now been signed.

An agreement to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the high seas of the central Arctic Ocean has been reached by several Arctic and non-Arctic nations. This agreement is unusual given the fact that due to sea ice, there is no current commercial fishing taking place in the area. This pending agreement also proves that Arctic nations can lead the way by using a precautionary approach to protecting the future interests of this globally important region.

“This agreement in principle is an excellent example of how Arctic nations can provide leadership for the rest of the world on how this globally important ecosystem needs to be governed now and into the future,” says Dr. Alexander Shestakov, Director of WWF's Arctic Programme. “The formal inclusion of Arctic Indigenous Peoples in the decision-making process moving forward is also vital to ensuring all voices are included in the management of the central Arctic Ocean.”

In 2015, the central Arctic coastal states of Canada, Kingdom of Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States signed the Oslo Agreement, which prevented commercial fishing in the area until a science-based approach could be established that would help establish a management agreement. Due to rapid climate change in the Arctic, the chances of vessels from other nations heading to the central Arctic Ocean for commercial opportunity became less distant. The original five Arctic nations have been working to include major commercial fishing nations such as the EU, Japan, China, South Korea and Iceland to ensure real protection in the marine ecosystem.

“This kind of proactive agreement on commercial and industrial development in the Arctic should serve as a potential model for the Arctic region,” says Dr. Simon Walmsley, Senior Advisor on Sustainable Development for WWF's Arctic Programme. “It is important that Arctic States continue to provide this kind of precautionary leadership in areas such as shipping, oil and gas development and infrastructure development to ensure high levels of marine protection.”

Once signed, this legally-binding agreement will prevent commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean for at least 16 years. The new agreement also establishes a basis for cooperation amongst the countries to conduct the scientific research required to better understand the marine ecosystems of the central Arctic Ocean. The agreement will automatically renew every five years thereafter - putting an onus on signatory governments to either withdraw or institute a science-based management system. Current Parties to the agreement may also invite other countries with real interest and expertise in the area to join the accord.