Global warming strikes the Artic region harder than the rest of the globe and climate models predict that the opening up of the Central Arctic Ocean for non-ice-breaking vessels is just a matter of decades. Since most of the area consists of high seas – international waters outside national jurisdictions – possible future human activities here are debated at national and international political levels.
“Usually, exploitation of newly accessible natural resources tends to precede scientific research and management measures, and internationally shared fish stocks in high seas are especially prone to overexploitation”, says Pauline Snoeijs Leijonmalm.
Taking a precautionary approach, Canada, China, Greenland (Kingdom of Denmark), Iceland, Japan, Norway, Russia, South-Korea, the USA and the European Union negotiated the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean (CAO) that entered into force on 25 June 2021. The ten partners of the Agreement will soon be launching a large Joint Scientific Research and Monitoring Program to collect new fish and ecosystem data in the Central Arctic Ocean. The EU has already started this work by financing the EFICA Consortium’s ecosystem research on the MOSAiC expedition (2019-2020), and the Synoptic Arctic Survey expedition with the Swedish icebreaker Oden (2021). The new paper in Science Advances is the first scientific paper presenting new field data in the context of the agreement.
“This agreement prevents any commercial fishing for at least 16 years to come, and puts “science first”, warranting scientific assessments of the status and distribution of possible fish stocks in the Central Arctic Ocean and the ecosystem supporting them – a wise political decision and a good start towards full protection”, says Pauline Snoeijs Leijonmalm.