As the summer Arctic ice cover shrinks, all sorts of natural resources are becoming available (Global warming is reducing the costs of mining in Greenland, July 16; ”We must prove the North Pole is an extension of the Russian continental shelf”, August 1). The ownership, control, and government of these resources are now becoming important issues. This goes for fisheries too.
Alaska Senator Stevens has just introduced a resolution calling for: "the United States to initiate efforts with other nations to negotiate international agreements to better manage migratory and transboundary fish stocks in the Arctic Ocean": Senator Stevens Introduces Resolution to Protect Arctic Fisheries (press release, August 3).
The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is considering creating a fisheries management plan (FMP) for the Arctic regions under its jurisdiction. Here's an excellent discussion paper: Fishery Management Options for the Alaskan EEZ in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas of the Arctic Ocean – A Revised Discussion Paper (Bill Wilson, North Pacific Council, April 2007).
At its June 2007 meeting, the Council directed staff to prepare a draft Arctic Marine Resources FMP. The Council offered the following language for consideration in a problem statement:
Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) [the MSA is the statute governing the management of fisheries under Federal jurisdiction - Ben], the Council is authorized to conserve and manage the fishery resources of the Alaskan EEZ, including the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. To date, no large commercial fisheries have developed in these areas, and thus the Council has not had a compelling reason to develop Fishery Management Plans for these Arctic marine areas off Alaska.
But the environment for commercial fishery development in the Alaskan Arctic may be changing, with warming trends in ocean temperatures and changes in seasonal sea ice conditions potentially favoring the development of commercial fisheries.
Although at this time there are no such fisheries in the Alaskan EEZ in the Arctic Ocean, and no routine fish surveys conducted in the region, the Council is interested in exploring policy and management options to prepare for future change.
In addition, the Council recognizes the unique ecological conditions of the Arctic, and it expresses concern over potential effects of commercial fishing on local residents who rely on subsistence fishing and hunting. The Council views the development of an Arctic Marine Resources FMP as an opportunity for implementing an ecosystem-based management policy that recognizes the unique issues in the Alaskan Arctic.
The Council also desires to clarify management authorities in the U.S. Arctic EEZ, and this action would accomplish that objective. A new Arctic Resources FMP would provide the Council a vehicle for addressing future management issues, including deferral of management to the State of Alaska.
The Council’s initial preferred alternative will be to close the entire Arctic region, defined as the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off Alaska, to commercial fishing for all marine species, including forage species, except for fisheries that have traditionally been prosecuted in these waters; currently, the only known commercial EEZ fishery in the Alaskan Arctic is for red king crab in the southern part of the Chukchi Sea. The Council will define its management approach in more detail in the Arctic Marine Resources FMP, including the conditions under which the Council will reconsider its policy for a general fishery closure.