Inuit traditional knowledge played a role in developing a ban on commercial fishing in the High Arctic.

Canada and the four other countries with Arctic coastlines signed the agreement last week. China, Japan, South Korea, the European Union and Iceland also signed on. Inuit from three countries, including Canada, were also represented. 

There is currently no commercial fishing in the region but the area is becoming increasingly free of ice, opening the possibility the region could see commercial vessels.

"It's the first agreement of its kind that involves Indigenous people," said Herb Nakimayak, vice president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada, which was part of the negotiations.

Herb Nakimayak

'It's the first agreement of its kind that involves Indigenous people,' said Herb Nakimayak, vice president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

"In the past Inuit have always advocated for Indigenous and traditional local knowledge to be a part of any decision-making process." 

"This agreement is … the first of its kind that actually has that."

The ban will last at least 16 years and covers the high seas of the Central Arctic, which is about 322 kilometres offshore. It is not expected to have an impact on existing Indigenous harvesting.

"Current fisheries — Indigenous fisheries — in the North will not be affected," said Nadia Bouffard, director general for fisheries renewal at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

"Indigenous people's interests, Arctic Indigenous knowledge, and their participation is actually secured in this agreement."

Bouffard says numerous Indigenous organizations were consulted during nearly three years of consultation.

Raymond Ruben, the mayor of Paulatuk, N.W.T., said he understood the ban was negotiated at a political level he's not privy to, but he said he and the community support the ban.

Fish stocks need to be monitored and protected, Ruben said, while recalling his memory of a small-scale commercial fishery the community supported in the mid-80s, but which had to be cut-off after a few years because of it's impact on char stock. 

"On the commercial side we wanted it to be controlled," Ruben said. "I'm … glad on a more global stage that it's being recognized as off-limits."

With files from Mackenzie Scott