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An introduction to: The International Agreement to Prevent Unregulated Fishing in the High Seas of the Central Arctic Ocean

Today, the International Agreement to Prevent Unregulated Fishing in the High Seas of the Central Arctic Ocean enters into force. The Agreement will prevent commercial fishing by the signatory states in the high seas of the Arctic Ocean for the next 16 years. A time period that will be used to further our understanding of an ecosystem that is emerging below a retreating sea ice cover.

The Central Arctic Ocean, a high sea area that previously only has been accessible by heavy icebreakers, could soon open up. A potentially promising prospect for commercial fishing activities. Yet, as of today, we know very little about the ecosystem below the shrinking ice cover and unregulated fishing could have severe impacts.

The Arctic coastal states therefore decided to put a mechanism in place that would prevent commercial fishing activities until better scientific knowledge was available. In the process, they also engaged other states with distant-water fishing capacity. And so, on 3 October 2018, ten parties signed the Agreement: Canada, Iceland, the Kingdom of Denmark, Norway, the United States and the Russian Federation, as well as China, Japan, South Korea and the European Union.

Today, the Agreement enters into force as all parties have ratified it. It will remain in effect for 16 years. Thereafter, the parties can decide to renew the Agreement in increments of five years. Within this period, the signatory parties have committed to not authorize any vessel flying its flag to engage in commercial fishing in the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean.

The goal is to ensure that adequate scientific information is available that can inform decision making in relation to the viability and sustainability of any potential future fishing activities in the agreement area. In the meantime, parties intend to meet at least every two years to review implementation progress and the scientific information that is developed through a joint program of scientific research and monitoring.

The Arctic States expressed that they were looking forward to the entry into force of the Agreement in the Reykjavik Declaration, which was signed by the Foreign Ministers during the 12th Ministerial meeting in Reykjavik last month on 20 May 2021.

“We were pleasantly surprised that the Agreement will enter into force much faster than we had anticipated and we welcome the ratification of the Agreement by all parties. We regard the Agreement as a serious step towards promoting responsible governance and an ecosystem-based approach to the management of marine resources in the Arctic. And, we are looking forward to constructively engage with all parties to safeguard a sustainable future for the Central Arctic Ocean,” stated Ambassador Nikolay Korchunov, Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials.

The central Arctic Ocean is the largest area of high seas in the Arctic. It is surrounded entirely by the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark (in respect of Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Norway, the Russian Federation, and the United States, and spans an area of approximately 2.8 million square kilometers – the same size as the Mediterranean Sea.

Learn more about the Agreement in an interview with Maya Gold, Senior Advisor within International and Intergovernmental Affairs at Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Canada’s Head of Delegation to the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group.