United States Protects America's Arctic from Industrial Fishing - Oceana

United States Protects America’s Arctic from Industrial Fishing

Press Release Date: September 30, 2009

Location: Seattle, WA


Anna Baxter | email: abaxter@oceana.org
Anna Baxter

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) voted unanimously today, February 5th, 2009, to prevent the expansion of industrial fishing into all U.S. waters north of the Bering Strait for the foreseeable future to limit stress on ocean ecosystems in light of the dramatic impacts of global climate change in the Arctic. With no large-scale commercial fishing in the U.S. Arctic at present this decision establishes one of the largest preventative and precautionary measures in fisheries management history.

“As goes the Arctic, so goes the planet. We must wake up and recognize that in reality, we are all on thin ice,” said Jim Ayers, vice president of Oceana. “The Arctic Ocean is a unique place vital to the people in the region and the Earth’s health. The NPFMC is leading the way toward a science- based precautionary approach and this action — the largest of its kind– is a model for management of our Arctic Ocean.”

Climate change is causing the Arctic to warm twice as fast as the rest of the planet, leading to a dramatic reduction in Arctic sea ice cover and other potentially catastrophic changes to Arctic Ocean ecosystems. The loss of sea ice threatens not only the Arctic, but the rest of the planet as the Arctic plays a critical role in global weather and climate patterns. In addition, melting sea ice opens previously ice-covered waters to new industrial activities. Scientists, conservationists and local Arctic communities have expressed concern that additional strain from industrial activities like large-scale commercial fishing, shipping, or oil and gas development could overwhelm Arctic ecosystems.

“Today’s decision signals a new day in the Arctic, where science comes first and where we think about the consequences of our actions before we take them,” said Janis Searles Jones, vice president with Ocean Conservancy. “This proactive decision by the Council removes one source of additional stress, giving the Arctic, its peoples and animals a better chance to adapt to the changes. We call on drilling and shipping industries to follow the Council’s leadership to help keep the Arctic environment healthy.”

The Arctic is home to vibrant communities of indigenous peoples who have lived in harmony with their surroundings since time immemorial. The Arctic is also home to more than a dozen species of marine mammals and birds and hundreds of different fishes. Many of these animals, including the polar bear, bowhead whale and spectacled eider, are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act due in part to unprecedented challenges in the rapidly changing Arctic environment.

“Protecting our Arctic waters from a rush of commercial development is a wise move. The cumulative effect of commercial fishing and shipping, as well as open-ended oil and gas development could be devastating to this highly fragile system if not done correctly,” said Josh Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group. “Rarely are we given a chance to put an area’s value as an ecosystem ahead of its commercial potential. Too often we get it wrong by depleting resources first and then backpedaling to return a place to its former grandeur.”

Melting sea ice and a northward expansion of fish populations increases the likelihood that commercial fishing will expand into the Arctic. Once implemented, the Council’s decision will prevent such an expansion unless and until science shows that commercial fishing would not threaten the health of Arctic ecosystems or opportunities for the subsistence way of life crucial to local communities. The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to approve the Council’s decision and issue final regulations to protect the Arctic later this year, after a public comment period. Swift approval by the Obama Administration will place the United States in a leadership role in Arctic conservation, and will send a very important signal to other countries with Arctic territory and other fisheries management bodies around the globe.

Audubon Alaska, Oceana, Ocean Conservancy and the Pew Environment Group are partnered with scientists, local Arctic communities, and fishermen to call for a science-based, precautionary approach before any industrial fishing activities are allowed to expand into the Arctic Ocean.

“Much of the Arctic food web is linked to a handful of fish species, such as the Arctic cod. We don’t want to add the effects of commercial fisheries while the entire ecosystem is changing due to global warming,” said Stan Senner, executive director of Audubon Alaska.