On August 20, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke approved a plan to close 200,000 square miles of the waters off the north coast of Alaska to commercial fishing. The plan, which was recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in February, entails a ban on commercial fishing in the American sections of the Beaufort and Chuchki Seas until further scientific studies are done of the region to assess its vulnerability. Finfish and shellfish, including cod and snow crab, will now be protected indefinitely from trawls, purse seines, and other sorts of commercial fishing gear.  Of course, the native Inuit will still be able to conduct subsistence hunting.

In the future, if fishing is allowed, it will be subject to strict regulations. For instance, ships may be required to have a fisheries observer on board to ensure that catches are within the regulations. You can view the official plan here.

While the author of the LA Times article, Kim Murphy, seems to see the moratorium as a precursor to an international ban on commercial fishing in the Arctic, Anna Mehler Papperney at the Globe and Mail views the ban as a more ominous precedent due to the so-called “Beaufort Sea Dispute.” The US and Canada are still at odds over where to draw the border between the two countries in the Beaufort Sea. While Canada insists on drawing the line along the 141st meridian, the US prefers to use the equidistance principle in order to better serve its interests. You can read more about the territorial dispute here on page 4 (PDF).

Thus, in late July, Papperney wrote that the ban wouldn’t pose too many problems to Canada, since its commercial fishing policy is similar to that of the United States. However, the real contention would center around whether Canada would be seen as losing face to the United States, which is now exercising jurisdiction over the disputed wedge of ocean – and this just as Prime Minister Harper goes on his sovereignty promotional tour in the High North.

Map of Arctic FMP Area. © NOAA
Map of Arctic FMP Area. © NOAA

News links

“U.S. bans expanded commercial fishing in the Arctic,” LA Times Blog

“Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke approves fisheries plan for the Arctic,” NOAA

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Moratorium on fishing north of Alaska

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