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2000 Scientists Urge Protection

More than 2,000 Scientists Worldwide Urge Protection of Central Arctic Ocean Fisheries

More than 2,000 scientists from 67 countries urged Arctic leaders in an open letter to develop an international fisheries agreement that would protect the waters of the Central Arctic Ocean. The letter, released by The Pew Charitable Trusts on the first day of the International Polar Year conference in Montreal, noted that loss of permanent sea ice has opened up as much as 40 percent of this pristine region during recent summers, making commercial fisheries viable for the first time in human history.

"Scientists recognize the crucial need for an international agreement that will prohibit the start of commercial fishing until research-based management measures can be put in place," said Henry Huntington, The Pew Charitable Trusts' Arctic science director. “There’s no margin for error in a region where the melting sea ice is rapidly changing the marine ecosystem.”

Download Letter + Signer List »

More than 60 percent of those who signed the letter are scientists from one of the five coastal Arctic countries of Canada, United States, Russia, Norway and Greenland/Denmark. The rest are scientists from more than 62 other countries. The letter recommends the leaders of coastal Arctic countries pursue the following actions:

  • Take the lead in developing a precautionary international fisheries management agreement
  • Start with a catch level of zero until sufficient scientific research can assess the impacts of fisheries on the central Arctic ecosystem
  • Set up a robust management, monitoring and enforcement system before fishing begins
Trevor Taylor, policy director for Oceans North Canada, a collaboration of Pew and Ducks Unlimited Canada, applauded scientists for taking this important step. “Atlantic Canada has experienced the damage that unregulated fishing can cause, even when it is outside the 200-mile limit,” said Taylor, a former fisherman and fisheries minister for Newfoundland and Labrador. “Canada should take the lead in helping craft an international accord to prevent the start of industrial fishing. This will protect the environment and strengthen Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.”
Why is this international agreement so important? Read our International Arctic fisheries FAQ that provides more information about many related issues, from the size of this region to its ecological significance to other species such as beluga whales, ringed seals and polar bears.

Look at maps showing the extent of summer sea ice melt in this region, evidence of biological activity in the Central Arctic Ocean and its accessibility to bottom trawlers.

Read about other models for precautionary fishery agreements such as the Central Bering Sea Pollock Agreement negotiated by Russia and the U.S. in the 1980s, or the U.S. fishery management plan that closed its Arctic waters in 2009 to allow for scientific research to evaluate whether such activities can be done in a sustainable manner. Canada is also considering putting a fishery policy in place to protect the Beaufort Sea.
Although industrial fishing has not yet occurred in the northernmost part of the Arctic, its newly opened waters are closer to Asian ports than Antarctica’s waters are. Large bottom trawlers regularly catch krill and toothfish in the Southern Ocean, placing stress on populations of these fish. The lack of regulation in the Arctic region could make it an appealing target for similar activities.
Pew’s international Arctic campaign is working with Arctic countries, scientists, the fishing industry, and indigenous peoples to achieve expanded support for an agreement that will protect the international waters of the Central Arctic Ocean and its living marine resources from premature, unregulated, or unsustainable commercial fishing.


What are Scientists Saying?

“The loss of multi-year Arctic sea ice is affecting the entire marine ecosystem, as well as the ways in which people are likely to develop Arctic resources. In the Central Arctic Ocean, it is essential that an international agreement is put in place before commercial fishing starts to ensure that it is sustainable." 
—David Barber, Associate Dean, Faculty of Environment, Earth and Resources, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

“Polar bears and some marine mammals are regularly seen in this part of the ocean and considerable fish populations have been detected that may attract fisheries into this area. Warming of the climate in the Arctic accompanied by ice cover fragmentation makes the chances for fishing in the high Arctic more real. This added human impact may cause irreparable damage to the vulnerable Arctic marine ecosystem, particularly to marine mammals and polar bears by reducing their food resources.”
—Stanislav Belikov, Head of Arctic Ecosystem Laboratory, Russian Institute of Nature Protection, Moscow, Russia

“Developing an international fisheries agreement is an important step towards protecting the ecosystem of the high Arctic. Without such regulation, this region will be increasingly vulnerable to overfishing as climate change causes the loss of permanent ice.”
—Daniel Pauly, Professor, Fisheries Centre and Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

“The Arctic Basin is easily among the least known ocean ecosystems on Earth and includes many iconic species found nowhere else. Surely such proactive measures as scientists are calling for in this letter can be embraced by Arctic nations to protect this unique region for the common good.”
—Alan Springer, Research Professor, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska

“The Central Arctic Ocean is in many ways a new frontier, one with which we have the opportunity to take a precautionary and informed approach to deciding if and how we will relate and interact. This letter from scientists is important, and I support it because that is its only agenda--that we look before we leap.”
—Philip Loring, Assistant Professor, University of Alaska Fairbanks, vice-president of Alaska chapter of American Fisheries Society: