Preventing Environmental Crises Before They Occur
On October 3, 2018, a signing ceremony was held in Ilulissat, Greenland where several nations met and signed a moratorium on commercial fishing in the High Arctic. This agreement will prevent commercial fishing at least 200 kilometers offshore from countries with an Arctic coastline, which amounts to 2.8 million square kilometers of ocean (roughly the size of the Mediterranean Sea). More than 12 countries signed on including the five nations with Arctic coastlines as well as China, Japan, Iceland, South Korea, and the European Union. Indigenous people, including Inuit from Canada, also played a significant role in developing the ban on commercial fishing in the High Arctic by providing their traditional knowledge about those ecosystems during negotiations.
Before this agreement was made, according to international law, anyone could fish the High Arctic seas, which wasn’t a concern before since this area was frozen year-round. But currently, due to changing climates, the High Arctic has become increasingly accessible with 40% of its water now open during the summer. The moratorium banning commercial fishing in the High Arctic will be in place for 16 years, and furthermore, requires all signatories to undertake scientific research on the ecosystems in this region. The scientific plan for each country must be made within the first two years of signing the moratorium. Although the agreement bans all commercial fishing, Indigenous fisheries in the North will not be affected and many representatives of the Indigenous people have expressed great interest in ensuring that the fish stock along with marine mammals in the region are protected.
Experts weighing in on the moratorium say this is a rare example of the planet coming together to prevent environmental problems before they start. Michael Byers, a professor of international law at the University of British Columbia stated, “Governments usually don’t devote any diplomatic effort to anything other than an immediate crisis. To actually anticipate a problem and bring countries together and come up with a system that is science-based, is a model of what international diplomacy should do.” Fisheries can only be a renewable resource if their ecosystem is understood allowing for proper management to be developed. Verner Wilson, member of the Curyung Tribe in Alaska and senior oceans campaigner for Friends of the Earth, agrees with other experts and emphasizes how understanding and having a precautionary approach to development is crucial for future generations.
The agreement doesn’t come into power until it is ratified by all signatories, which is estimated to take one year.