President Bush today established a U.S. policy halting the expansion of industrial fishing into the Arctic until we have more information. The policy in part states that "the decline of several commercially valuable fish stocks throughout the world's oceans highlights the need for fishing nations to conserve fish stocks and develop management systems that promote fisheries sustainability," and also states that until international agreement for managing Arctic fishing are in place, "...the United States should support international efforts to halt the expansion of commercial fishing activities in the high seas of the Arctic Ocean."
"This is the first significant step the U.S. government has taken to protect the Arctic Ocean," said Jim Ayers, Vice President of Oceana. "With the polar ice cap disappearing before our eyes, we must fend off the ‘Cold Rush' that is threatening to further destroy the Arctic. As goes the Arctic, so goes the planet. Today's actions are an enormous step in the right direction."
Rapid climate change in the Arctic is quickly decreasing ice cover in the region and opening it for the further stress of industrialization. A report recently published in Science magazine cited areas in the Arctic as among the world's last remaining ocean areas least impacted by human industrialization, but also cautioned that loss of sea ice could increase the threat to the region. Sea ice is vitally important to the animals and people who live there. Today's newly-established national policy positions the United States to lead the rest of the world in protecting the Arctic from both climate change and industrial pressures.
"Given how hard we've been pressing the accelerator to industrialize the Arctic, it's great to see the Administration start to hit the brakes and think about slowing down," said Ayers. "Hopefully this starts a trend towards conservation and away from the ‘too much, too fast and too soon' pace we've seen so far."
The Arctic is home to many indigenous communities that rely on healthy marine ecosystems and a productive Arctic food web for the subsistence way of life that has been a part of traditional cultures for generations. Additionally, the Arctic is home to more than 25 species of marine mammals including polar bears, whales, seals, walrus; hundreds of species of fish including Arctic cod, capelin, herring, krill, and Greenland halibut; and dozens of species of seabirds hailing from all over the world and including Arctic terns, endangered eiders and puffins.
To enact this policy into law, Oceana, the Marine Conservation Alliance and others are already working with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on developing a Fishery Plan for the Arctic that focuses on protecting the health of Arctic ecosystems and opportunities for the subsistence way of life. That plan is expected to be in place in 2009. Additionally, the Council and NOAA Fisheries adopted Oceana's approach to freeze the footprint of bottom trawling in the Bering Sea and set a northern boundary for bottom trawling to prevent expansion of that type of destructive fishing into the high Arctic.
Today's action is in large part due to the leadership of Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who introduced and shepherded this idea through the U.S. Congress. Taken together this new national policy and the work of the Council represent strong support locally and nationally for protecting already-stressed Arctic ecosystems.
"From mistakes across the world, we've learned that unbridled industrial fishing wipes out fish stocks and damages ecosystems, leaving behind a poorer and emptier ocean," said Ayers. "Given our lousy track record of managing for collapse instead of managing for sustainability, we must look before we leap to add any new and possibly catastrophic industrial pressures to the Arctic. We commend the work of Senator Stevens and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in leading the way to a brighter future for the Arctic."