NMFS announced on Tuesday, May 26 that it is accepting public comments on an Arctic Fisheries Management Plan that would close the U.S. Arctic to fishing. After NMFS receives public comments they will publish a “final rule” later this year, and we hope to see in-the-water protections by early 2010.
As we see sea ice disappearing in the Arctic, previously ice covered areas are potentially available to commercial fishing. This landmark plan unanimously adopted by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) on February 5th would close federal waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas to commercial fishing of all finfish and shellfish species excluding Pacific Salmon and Pacific Halibut (which are managed by other councils).
Essentially, it will be closing our Arctic waters to commercial fishing, and would only allow it in the future if science indicates that such fishing could occur without harming Arctic ecosystems or opportunities for the subsistence way of life. The fishery management plan would not affect subsistence harvesting by Alaska natives.
In a time of global warming, rising levels of ocean acidity, sea ice disappearance, and other enormous stresses on the Arctic, I’m happy to see the federal government taking a step in the right direction. As the world changes perhaps we can start to “look before we leap,” and do the science first before we consider exploiting the new resources available to us.
Those of us who care about the Arctic should read the plan and provide any comments they have to support or improve it.