The U.S. Secretary of Commerce approved the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's new Arctic Fishery Management Plan last week. The plan defers commercial fishing until there is more information about the fish stocks and possible social and ecosystem impacts.
It's also drawn attention to a border dispute between the U.S. and Canada.
The Canadian's think their Beaufort Sea boundary with the U.S. is a linear extension of the national boundaries on the adjacent mainland - the U.S. thinks the boundary starts out at a 90 degree angle to the shoreline. The map above shows the disputed area.
Now the U.S. has adopted a fishery management plan that prohibits commercial fishing in the area. Since the Canadians also claim the zone, they could adopt different rules that might allow for some fishery activities the U.S. prohibits. Randy Boswell reports for Canwest News (U.S. Arctic fishing policy latest in Can-Am dispute).
Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Alain Cacchione stated in an e-mail that "Canadian sovereignty over the lands, islands and waters of the Canadian Arctic is long-standing, well-established and based on historic title" — an oft-repeated message from the federal government when it comes to Arctic sovereignty issues.
While noting that Canada "shares concerns with the U.S. on proper management of living marine resources in the Arctic," and that the Beaufort Sea boundary dispute is "well managed by both sides," the government's statement acknowledges the possibility that the two countries may ultimately pursue different conservation strategies in the region despite last week's "unilateral" decision by the U.S.
"The U.S. has made some unilateral closures in their waters and in a disputed zone in the Arctic as their expression of 'precaution' in the absence of information," the statement said. "However, closures are only one tool for addressing sustainability risks. Other tools, such as exploratory fisheries protocols, area closures, etc., are risk-based yet compatible with sustainable use."
Canadian fisheries managers are considering a moratorium like the one adopted by the U.S. Boswell reports again (Canada considers Beaufort Sea fishing moratorium):
In Canada, Beaufort Sea fishing is regulated by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in collaboration with six Inuit communities in the Western Arctic under terms of the 1984 Inuvialuit Final Agreement land claim.
Burton Ayles, a former DFO scientist who's now a federal appointee with the Inuvialuit region's Fisheries Joint Management Committee, told Canwest News Service that discussions have begun on "how we might proceed if we do want to have a commercial fisheries moratorium in the Canadian Beaufort."
Ayles said the same key factor behind the U.S. moratorium — lack of knowledge about the changes happening to the Beaufort ecosystem — is driving Canada's own discussions about a possible commercial fishing ban.