Final regulations protecting almost 200,000 sq miles of U.S. Arctic waters from industrial fishing were released and will be effective starting Dec. 3, 2009. The new regulations close all U.S. waters north of Alaska’s Bering Strait to commercial fishing to allow time for more science to assess the health of Arctic ocean ecosystems and the potential impacts of large-scale fishing given the impacts the Arctic is already facing from climate change and ocean acidification.
The regulations do not affect subsistence fishing, and are in fact designed to help protect Arctic ocean ecosystems central to subsistence. Conservationists hailed the regulations and called for a similar approach for other industries and in other nations.
“This is ‘doing it right’ in the Arctic--there is a desperate need for more science to be done before we add any more stress to an area already feeling the heat of climate change,” said Dr. Chris Krenz, Arctic project manager for Oceana. “We need a rush of scientists into the Arctic, not an armada of cargo ships, oil platforms and fishing trawlers.”
The same U.S. Arctic waters protected from fishing are squarely in the crosshairs of the oil industry. Last month the Minerals Management Service approved a plan for drilling in the Beaufort Sea next summer, and a similar plan for the Chukchi Sea is currently under review with a decision expected this month. Conservationists, scientists, local communities and others have called for a science-based precautionary approach for oil that is now in place for fishing, especially given the higher risks of oil spills in the Arctic and the inability to contain, control or clean up an accident in the icy waters of the Arctic.