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Saffron Cod and Snow Crabs: Commercial Fishing in the Arctic?

Posted on Apr 30, 2012 in Environment, Science

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In 2009, US banned commercial fishing in large areas in the Arctic Circle.

But, there are no American commercial fisheries in the Arctic. So, why the federal action?

A million square miles of ice which melts each summer became alarmingly large during recent years, make commercial fishing viable in the coming years.

Arctic Cod at the Supermarket: Why Not?

In April, more than 2,000 ocean scientists sent an open letter to the governments of US, Canada, Russia and Scandinavian countries to place a ban on commercial fishing in the Arctic Sea before a detailed study of the ecosystem.

One US Fisheries Service official said, “Historically, there have been no commercial fisheries in our Arctic seas. But with Arctic sea ice receding, [there is] increased interest in commercial fishing.”

Arctic ice is shrinking, water is becoming warmer, and business and industry are looking to exploit Arctic Ocean as the thaw continues. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a US Department of Commerce agency, is working on a comprehensive plan to manage fishing and other activities in the Arctic during the coming decades.

First, NOAA wants to find out what level of fishing can be sustained in the Arctic, before giving the green light to fishing in US waters in the Arctic Sea.

What Fishes Will We See?

If new regimens are put in place and commercial fishing is allowed, we may see the following fish at US restaurants and in supermarkets:

  • Arctic cod
  • Snow crab
  • Saffron cod

It will happen. In a few years.

The famed Alaskan salmon and halibut caught near the shores and fresh water fish are already permitted under existing regulations.

Arctic Ice Melt: Is It Real?

Every summer, with or without climate change, Arctic ice recedes as it has for  thousands of years. The ice comes back in the winter.

However, the amount of melting during summers has set historic highs during recent years. More area remains water for longer periods. This has made commercial interests very interested in fishing in the Arctic.

Yes, it’s real. Business and industry think it’s real.

Who controls the Arctic?

Every country, under international law, has commercial rights over the ocean up to nearly 250 miles (more accurately 370 km). Beyond that it’s international waters, subject international treaties.

As the map on the right (click for larger view) shows more than a dozen countries are on the shores of Arctic or have direct, close access to it. That includes Russia, Canada, the US, Norway, Sweden, France, UK, Japan and Iceland.

The recent record summer melting of the Arctic leaves over three-quarters of a million square miles of international waters exposed. Each year more area becomes water, for a longer time, with warmer water. And, there is no international agreement on who can fish how much in those waters.

In the past, Japan and several northern European countries fished the whales to near extinction before an international treaty. Now, it may be necessary for governments to reach such an agreement on Arctic fishing, before business interests move in..

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