High Arctic fishing ban a win for future generations, says member of Alaska tribe

Some Indigenous people are applauding the “precautionary” approach several nations are taking to protect the environment through a new moratorium on commercial fishing in the High Arctic.

Several nations signed moratorium on commercial fishing in High Arctic on Oct. 3

More than a dozen countries signed onto the agreement during a signing ceremony in Ilulissat, Greenland, on Oct. 3. (Pew Charitable Trusts)

Some people are applauding the "precautionary" approach several nations are taking to protect the environment through a new moratorium on commercial fishing in the High Arctic.

On Oct. 3, more than a dozen countries signed a deal preventing commercial fishing at least 200 kilometres offshore from countries with an Arctic coastline.

The moratorium involved input from Inuit and will be in place for 16 years.

"Fisheries are a renewable resource, but only if we take care of those fisheries and we understand how to manage them properly," said Verner Wilson, a member of the Curyung tribe in Alaska and senior oceans campaigner with Friends of the Earth.

"Moving towards more understanding and having a precautionary approach to development is a win-win, not just for our generation but for … future generations."

Verner Wilson, right, fishing with his father and brother in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Wilson says sustainable commercial fisheries are only possible with adequate science and data, which is why he supports the moratorium on commercial fishing in the High Arctic. (Submitted by Verner Wilson)

Commitment to study Arctic waters

There is currently no commercial fishing activity in High Arctic waters.

As part of the agreement signed last week in Greenland, signatories are required to undertake scientific research on ecosystems in the Arctic Ocean.

Wilson said that's a good thing.

He hails from Bristol Bay, Alaska, which boasts the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world.

Wilson said the fishery's success lies in the community's knowledge of how to properly manage it.

"That's where I think this precautionary approach around the Arctic is so important," he said. "If there's g​oing to be abundant fisheries in the future, there needs to be an understanding of what's there."

Duane Smith, chair and CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, agrees.

Duane Smith, chair and CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, says Inuit helped emphasize why the agreement would be important for their culture. (Senate of Canada/Jade Thériault)

He was involved in negotiations with Arctic countries a few years ago to get the moratorium off the ground and said Inuit emphasized the importance of the agreement to the marine life their culture depends on.

Smith said other marine areas of the world have been depleted because they haven't been sustained properly.

"So we kept emphasizing that this is one region where we need to get this right before we allow any type of fishing to take place," he said.

Smith said he is thankful Canada worked with Indigenous groups on the deal.

Co-operation and foresight

Scott Highleyman, vice-president of Ocean Conservancy, was at the signing ceremony in Greenland, where he said people heard from the parties involved in the agreement and celebrated with drumming, dancing and singing.

He said having the signing in a place like Greenland reinforced its importance.

"What made this a really good agreement was the co-operation everybody showed, and the foresight to ... try to prevent a problem from happening," he said.

"The process was inclusive of more than just Arctic countries. It was inclusive of Indigenous people who were on the negotiating teams, including Inuit from Canada who made very strong suggestions that actually helped the final agreement."

With files from Katie Toth