North

Binding agreement on high seas fishing in Arctic Ocean needed, says conservation group

As international negotiations between 10 nations on fishing in the Arctic Ocean wind down in Iqaluit, participants are expressing their hopes for a binding agreement that has enough teeth to prevent unregulated fishing.

‘A treaty needs to be broad enough and strong enough that it can stand up internationally,’ Oceans North

Baffin Fisheries' MV Sivulliq. Many of the 10 nations who met in Iqaluit to negotiate fishing regulations in the high seas hope that the final agreement is binding. (BFC)

As international negotiations between 10 nations on fishing in the Arctic Ocean wind down in Iqaluit, participants are expressing their hopes for a binding agreement that has enough teeth to prevent unregulated fishing.

According to international law, anyone can fish on high seas. And as ice melts, opening up waterways into the Arctic Ocean, the possibility of unregulated commercial fishing in previously unreachable areas is becoming a reality.  

Last July, five Arctic coastal nations (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States) reached an agreement in Oslo to regulate fishing in the Arctic Ocean.

This round of negotiations is hoping to build on that agreement.

"The issue of non-binding and binding is something that we are concerned about," said Trevor Taylor, the fisheries policy director with conservation group Oceans North Canada.

'The issue of nonbinding and binding is something that we are concerned about,' says Trevor Taylor, Oceans North. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

"We're hopeful that they'll get to a point where they get a binding agreement here. That is certainly what many of the countries are looking for. It is our understanding that that is Canada's position."

Taylor said there was no need to push for a binding agreement in Oslo since the last round of negotiations only included coastal Arctic states that would be directly affected by negative impacts on the fish stock in their adjacent waters.

However, since the July 6 to 8 meetings in Iqaluit also included Iceland, China, Japan, South Korea, and the European Union, states that are outside the immediate area, the stakes are higher.

"When you get into a non-binding agreement with states that are outside of the immediate area it becomes a bigger issue," said Taylor.

"A treaty needs to be broad enough and strong enough that it can stand up internationally."

Taylor said the goal is to prevent the high seas from being overfished like many others waters across the world.

"We've all had our turn at overfishing, Canada as well as others. We didn't really know that we were overfishing maybe, but we did it nevertheless," said Taylor.

"This is about trying to prevent something similar to the nose and tail of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland from happening in the Arctic Ocean."

The Chukchi Plateau

Taylor said the most likely opportunity to fish in the central Arctic Ocean in the near future would probably be in the Chukchi Plateau adjacent to the Beaufort Sea.

'Our hopes are to ensure that our integrity is not lost or taken for granted,' says Herb Nakimayak, vice president of Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

"That area has been opening up regularly over the course of the past five or six years and the trend is opening more, and it is an area where its depths are shallow enough that you would reasonably expect to see fish," said Taylor.

He said any offshore fishing that takes place in that region can potentially affect fish stocks in Nunavut and Northwest Territories.

Inuit voices at the negotiations

"Our hopes are to ensure that our integrity is not lost or taken for granted or undermined during negotiations like this," said Herb Nakimayak, vice-president of Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada.

ICC was a part of the official Canadian delegation at the negotiations.

"One of the successes from this conference is that we ensure that Inuit local and traditional knowledge is a key factor and working alongside with scientific knowledge as we move forward," said Nakimayak.

He said Inuit have a great interest in ensuring that the fish stock as well as the marine mammals in the region are protected from the effects of any future commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean.

Nakimayak said despite the complexity of the negotiations, he feels like the group is getting close to a final agreement and has a goal to have a draft finalized by November.

About the Author

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.