A group of more than 2,000 scientists from 67 countries has called for a moratorium on commercial fishing in the Arctic until more research can be completed on waters that were once covered by ice year-round.
The scientists said the loss of permanent sea ice has opened up as much as 40 per cent of the Central Arctic Ocean during recent summers, making industrial fishing viable for the first time.
But they said such activities should be prohibited until there's a better understanding of the area and sustainable fishing quotas can be set.
"The ability to fish is not the same as having the scientific information and management regimes needed for a well-managed fishery," the scientists said in an open letter released Sunday by the U.S.-based Pew Environment Group.
'Canada should take the lead in helping craft an international accord to prevent the start of industrial fishing.' —Trevor Taylor, policy director for Oceans North Canada
"In the absence of this scientific data and a robust management system, depletion of fishery resources and damage to other components of the ecosystem are likely to result if fisheries commence."
The letter was released on Earth Day, just as a major, week-long conference kicked off in Montreal bringing together Arctic researchers to discuss the effects of climate change.
More than 500 Canadian scientists sign open letter
More than 60 per cent of the scientists who signed the letter were from the five Arctic coastal countries, including 551 from Canada.
The scientists said that Arctic countries, which also include the United States, Russia, Norway and Denmark, should work together to protect the ocean.
Although industrial fishing hasn't yet occurred in the northern-most part of the Arctic, the group said the newly-opened waters could soon be a target for industrial fishing.
The scientists said they were concerned a lack of regulation could make it a target for large bottom trawlers, which would put stress on fish populations.
"Atlantic Canada has experienced the damage that unregulated fishing can cause, even when it is outside the 200-mile (320-kilometre) limit," Trevor Taylor, policy director for Oceans North Canada, which is connected with the Pew Environment Group, said in a statement.
"Canada should take the lead in helping craft an international accord to prevent the start of industrial fishing. This will protect the environment and strengthen Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic."