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U.S. to seek Arctic Ocean commercial fishing moratorium

The United States is calling for an international moratorium on any expansion of commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean, at least until a management system is in place.

The United States is calling for an international moratorium on any expansion of commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean, which would include parts of Canada, at least until a management system is in place.

There is little commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean, but shrinking sea ice has meant fish are starting to move into more northern waters off Alaska, bringing fishing vessels northward as well.

That has raised concerns in the U.S. that not enough is known about the Arctic Ocean environment or fish stocks there, officials said Friday at the Canadian Arctic Summit in Edmonton.

"Before we open up a fishery in the Arctic Ocean, let's thoroughly understand what's there. And by the precautionary principle, let's have a moratorium on fishing," Mead Treadwell, chairman of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, said at the summit.

Treadwell said his commission wants a major baseline study "to understand what the ecosystem is and what's happening there."

The commission, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Alaska, and both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives are all supporting a commercial fishing moratorium in the area.

In fact, Congress recently passed a resolution that would allow the U.S. to take the issue to the United Nations. That resolution now only requires President George W. Bush's signature to become law.

Canadian wildlife biologist Jacques Sirois told delegates at the summit that the relatively pristine ecosystem of the Arctic Ocean needs protection, as overfishing and illegal fishing are major problems around the world.

"I'm glad to hear that the United States is planning a moratorium on fishing," Sirois said. "I think it's a great idea. I think there should be a moratorium Arctic-wide.'"

The U.S. will try to obtain an international agreement to ban the expansion of commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean, until a proper international management system is implemented.

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