Arctic seas were once frozen year-round. But as climate change continues to reshape the Arctic, about 40 per cent of those waters were open during the summer of 2017. There is currently no commercial fishing in the region but the area is becoming increasingly free of ice, opening the possibility the region could see commercial vessels.
To provide precautionary protections to fish stocks before they’ve become depleted, a historic agreement was signed in December 2017 to ban commercial fishing in the High Arctic for at least 16 years, and be renewed every five years after that. The ban covers the high seas of the Central Arctic, which is about 322 kilometres offshore. Current Indigenous fisheries in the Arctic will not be affected.
Inuit traditional knowledge played a role in developing the ban with numerous Indigenous organizations consulted during nearly three years of consultation. It’s the first agreement of its kind that involves Indigenous people. Canada, China, Japan, South Korea, the European Union and Iceland all signed the agreement.
The agreement commits the signatories to an extensive science program, which will include scientists trying to understand the size and health of the region’s fish stocks.