Having just arrived in Aberdeen for the 18th Biennial Conference of the International Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade (IIFET) to present in a session on “Present and Emerging Arctic Fisheries”, I’d like to share some concerns on the ongoing discussions for the management of fish stocks in the Central Arctic Ocean (CAO). The IIFET conference is a well-known forum that brings together fisheries economists, social scientists, and managers as well as numerous other stakeholders including industry representatives from all over the world.

Complex and incomplete private interests for developing solutions to the arising commons problems could certainly hinder Arctic marine conservation. Such challenges must therefore also concern public agents (e.g conservation agents), research institutes and local stakeholders. The icy barriers that used to protect fish stocks of the CAO from human interventions are receding at a rapid pace, and international waters of approximately 2.8 million km2 may soon open up for commercial exploitation (Shephard et al., 2016). It is therefore imperative that we accept the basic tenants of precaution and act in timely fashion, with both more research and more policy, before unique Arctic marine ecosystems are put into peril.

The Arctic five coastal states (A5), Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Russia, U.S. and Norway seem to have Arctic fisheries high in their agendas (actively since 2010) and have lately made important steps towards reaching an agreement on both protection and future management. In July 2015, the A5 signed the ‘Declaration concerning the prevention of unregulated high seas fishing in the CAO” in Oslo. The U.S. has also been lately hosting meetings between various Arctic and non-Arctic countries (April 2015, December 2015 and April 2016), recognizing that international players certainly do have a say in the future economic and political trajectory of the international waters of the Arctic. In April 2015 as well as in other meetings prior to July’s Declaration, the main focus has been to jointly establish and collaborate on research and monitoring programs between the A5, in order to acquire a better understanding of the Arctic marine environment (e.g. the February 2014 Nuuk, Greenland meeting, the October 2013 Tromsø meeting and the June 2011 Anchorage Alaska meeting). December’s meeting in Washington D.C. had more of an exploratory nature regarding the potential of commercially exploitable fish stocks in the CAO and possible ecosystem effects. Most of the countries’ delegations expressed their willingness to cooperate in future research and monitoring efforts. Although various suggestions were made for future management, including adjustments in July’s Declaration as well as binding agreements (suggested by the U.S), no formal negotiations took place at this stage. In the April 2016 meeting in D.C., delegations agreed on the necessity for interim measures towards establishing some mechanism for managing the CAO (through regional fisheries management organizations or other arrangements) using legally binding instruments with a long-term view to protecting living marine resources.

Canada hosted the most recent meeting last week (July 6-8) in Iqaluit, Nunavut-Canada, involving 10 countries and representatives from the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) as well. Whether these meetings will amount to binding agreements or just political posturing depends on the ability to identify the true net benefits and their distribution – this means knowing more about not just the dynamics of the potential commercial fisheries but also ecological, socio-economic as well as cultural losses that might result from increased commercialization.

For those of you who happen to be at IIFET 2016 the next few days, you might want to stop by at our session and give us your views on relevant issues.


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