10 nations gather in Iqaluit for Arctic fisheries negotiations

Ten countries with stakes in Arctic fishing are gathering in Iqaluit this week to negotiate measures for sustainable fishing in the Arctic Ocean.

DFO says it will take international co-operation to fund science in Arctic Ocean

The Inuksuk 1 fishing vessel owned by the Baffin Fisheries Coalition. Ten countries with stakes in Arctic fishing are gathering in Iqaluit this week to negotiate measures for sustainable fishing in the Arctic Ocean. (BFC)

Ten countries with stakes in Arctic fishing are gathering in Iqaluit this week to negotiate measures for sustainable fishing in the Arctic Ocean.

Nadia Bouffard, director general for external relations at Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said changes in ice coverage and a longer open water season translates into more potential for fishing in the Arctic.

"We needed to do something about the fact that ice is melting," she said.

Currently, international law says that anyone can fish on high seas.

"This is what we're trying to avoid," said Bouffard, pointing to the dangers with illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, which can deplete fish stock.

Canada, Denmark, Russia, United States and Norway have been meeting on the issue since 2010. Last July, the group signed the Declaration Concerning the Prevention of Unregulated High Seas Fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean in Oslo, Norway.

This year, negotiations will be expanding to include additional countries with interest and capacity to fish in the Arctic. The July 6 to 8 negotiations in Iqaluit will include delegations from Canada, the United States, Russia, Norway, Denmark (for Greenland and Faroe Islands), Iceland, China, Japan, South Korea, and the EU.

International co-operation

"I think it's really encouraging to see that all 10 of the countries around the table are not only willing to address the gap in terms of unregulated fishing, but they're also willing — very strongly willing — to work together to co-operate on research and science," said Bouffard.

She said it will take international co-operation to undertake serious scientific work in the Arctic Ocean.

"Frankly, no single country has enough funding to do science in the Arctic on its own. It really has to be about co-operation, working together, and this process is really espousing that," she said.

Part of that science will be exploratory fishing that can help in understanding what's happening in Arctic waters, what is there in terms of fish stock, and what potential impacts any fishing or human activity may have.

This is where Nunavut Inuit-owned sustainable fisheries can potentially play a role, said Bouffard.

Inuit involvement

The Inuit Circumpolar Council of Canada is representing Inuit interests as part of the Canadian delegation at the meeting.

Bouffard said protecting the interests of Indigenous people in Canada's North is a big part of the negotiations, as well as incorporating traditional Inuit knowledge.

"That traditional local knowledge needs to be imbedded in the science that we consider, the context of determining whether a fishery will ever take place in the Arctic." 

About the Author

Sima Sahar Zerehi

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.