Decades ago, fishermen, fishery managers and environmentalists from Alaska and the Soviet Union put aside their nations’ differences to try to stop uncontrolled high-seas pollock catches that were imperiling stocks throughout the Bering Sea. That effort led to a 1994 international agreement that banned fishing in the Bering Sea “Donut Hole,” an international area lying between U.S. and Russian territorial waters.
Now the United States and Russia, along with the governments of Canada, Norway and Denmark/Greenland, are trying to accomplish something similar in the Arctic Ocean, another area of international waters with no controlling authority.
On Thursday, the five nations signed a declaration promising their fishing vessels will stay out of a 1.1 million-square-mile zone in the central Arctic Ocean, an area bigger than the Mediterranean Sea. National representatives met in Oslo to sign the agreement, the product of several years’ work. The declaration says those nations will refrain from fishing the area until there is better scientific knowledge about the marine resources there and until there is a regulatory system in place to protect those resources.
There is no commercial fishing by any nation's fleet in the Arctic donut hole -- for now. But as pack ice has retreated, the area of the Arctic Ocean once frozen-over year-round has been exposed to the potential of commercial fishing. Scientists are particularly concerned over Arctic cod, a species crucial to the region’s ecosystem. Arctic cod stocks are already precarious in some areas, and scientists fear the fish will be targeted for use as fishmeal to quench booming demand for feedstock for large-scale fish farms.
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