With ice in the Arctic melting at an “alarming rate,” an agreement banning commercial fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean came into effect on Friday. Map courtesy of Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

Ban on commercial fishing in central Arctic Ocean comes into force

Historic 16-year ban by northern countries buys time for more scientific research

By Mélanie Ritchot

A first-of-its-kind agreement among a group of northern countries is now law, effectively banning commercial fishing in the central Arctic Ocean until there’s a better scientific understanding of the area and its ecosystems.

Bernadette Jordan, the minister of fisheries and oceans, announced the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean came into effect on Friday.

This means an area of about 2.8 million square kilometres will be protected — about the size of Quebec and Ontario combined — for at least 16 years with the option to be extended every five years. 

With climate change speeding up ice melt in the Arctic, there is more interest in using the Arctic Ocean for commercial fishing and shipping activity.

“[It] is necessary to protect this rapidly changing area already impacted by climate change and the threat of illegal fishing,” Jordan said in a news release.

The agreement will also help combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, the release says.

On top of banning commercial fishing, the treaty gives a framework to account for Indigenous and local knowledge, co-operate in scientific research, establish conservation measures and engage with Arctic Indigenous Peoples along the way.

The Fisheries and Oceans Department consulted with the Inuit Circumpolar Council, territorial governments, the fishing industry and environmental groups leading up to the ratification of the agreement.

“[Their knowledge] will be important in determining effective conservation and management measures for the area,” the release states.

This agreement was the first of this scale to be signed before commercial fishing starts in a high seas area, according to the release.

Canada, Norway, Russia, the United States, China, Iceland, Japan, Korea, the European Union and Denmark are signatories.

With ice in the Arctic melting at an “alarming rate,” Inuit have expressed concerns about the potential impacts of increased shipping on marine habitats and animal populations. (Photo from a video published by Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

The federal government recently recognized a group of researchers for its work studying northern shipping routes.

Jackie Dawson, an expert on climate change and shipping routes with the University of Ottawa, and her team received a Governor General’s Award in May for their help in creating a new knowledge base for the federal government to use when planning shipping routes and created a ship tracking database.

The researchers also created new mapping protocols to document sensitive or culturally significant marine areas that could be impacted by large ships passing through— like whale migration routes.

Inuit have long expressed concerns about increased shipping traffic harming marine ecosystems, contaminating the food supply, and icebreakers negatively impacting animals like narwhal.

In an interview in May, Dawson said Canada has the chance to manage the Arctic right the first time in terms of sustainability and combining Inuit knowledge with western science, instead of trying to go back to fix things down the road.

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(7) Comments:

  1. Posted by # of fish will decrease on

    Selling suvaks (fish eggs) should be banned too.

  2. Posted by jacques belleau on

    agreements like this are great, however without real enforcement they stay just that

    Who will police this and make sure it is a real ban ?


    • Posted by John K on

      The combined efforts of each involved nation’s coast guard probably.

    • Posted by Nunavimmiuk on

      I am assuming Russia, since the North Pole is moving towards Russia. Mr. Putin, is pleased to do so to have control of the Arctic waters. He is President for Life.

  3. Posted by Umingmak on

    The ban should exclude Inuit-owned commercial fishing. Inuit should not be impeded from making a living off of northern hunting, fishing or trapping in any way.

    • Posted by Nightmare Idea on

      You could probably get that to fly in Canadian jurisdiction, but then trying to carve out exceptions for all of the non-Inuit indigenous peoples of the other signatory nations would be a nightmare – I’m thinking the Ainu, and dozens or small number northern indigenous in the Russian far east. Far far more to consider than just the Inuit.

    • Posted by Pork Pie on

      What is most interesting about Umingmaks’s comment is the contrast it presents with a value system that is said to favour cooperation, working with others and consensus building. Yet, we see the stark reality that for some indigenous people the real goal is special privileges and the right to live within a bubble free from participation in efforts, constraints and goals of the outside world which, in this case, are designed to preserve a natural resource. I’m not surprised by this, but every now and then the disconnect between ideals and reality is laid out in such plain and hypocritical terms it should be taken note of.


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