As you've probably heard, there's a lot less ice up there in the Arctic these days. And less ice means more room for all kinds of fun human activities: It means we can start taking more efficient shipping routes! Drilling for more oil! (Which will, conveniently, help melt even more Arctic!)
And we can fish. The retreating glaciers have opened up new opportunities for fishing vessels to venture forth into new territory—territory in less-regulated international waters—and commercial fishing operations might start looking to cash in. Just one little obstacle: Over two thousand scientists from 67 different nations, each of whom has signed a letter calling for a moratorium on fishing in the newly exposed areas of the Arctic until they can better understand the ecosystem.
In all, more than 2.8 million square kilometres make up these international waters, which some scientists say could be ice free during summer months within 10 to 15 years. Although industrial fishing hasn’t yet occurred in the northernmost part of the Arctic, the lack of regulation may make it an appealing target for international commercial fishing vessels.This is clearly and incontrovertibly a good idea; of course we should know something about these unexplored underwater ecosystems before we charge in trawling for crab.
“The science community currently does not have sufficient biological information to understand the presence, abundance, structure, movements, and health of fish stocks and the role they play in the broader ecosystem of the central Arctic Ocean,” says the letter, which ... calls for the Arctic countries to put a moratorium on commercial fishing in the region until the impacts of fisheries on the central Arctic ecosystem, including seals, whales and polar bears, and those who live in the Arctic, can be evaluated.
And the scientists may have gotten out far enough ahead of the ball here to stand a chance this time—but I wouldn't count on it. We've seen how much weight the recommendations of the scientific community gets in the court of international trade policy these days, especially regarding fisheries (bye, bye bluefin tuna). But perhaps I'm being too cynical. And perhaps none of this matters too, too much, because of that other part—you know, where the Arctic is ice-free in 10-15 years. Scientists have been warning us about what happens after that, too.