U.S. pushes for limits on fishing in Arctic Ocean

SEATTLE – U.S. officials are heading to Greenland for a three-day meeting to persuade other Arctic nations to place a moratorium on high-seas fishing in the Arctic Ocean, where climate change is melting the permanent ice cap and allowing trawlers in for the first time in human history.

The United States is proposing an agreement “that would close the international waters of the Arctic Ocean to commercial fishing until there is a good scientific foundation on which to base management of any potential fishing,” said David Benton, a member of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, who will be part of the negotiations in Nuuk, Greenland.

The first step toward protecting the Arctic Ocean and its fish population, which has never been studied, is for the five nations bordering the body of water to reach an agreement on a moratorium. To date, the United States, Canada and Greenland are on board, but Russia and Norway have not joined in.

All coastal countries control the fisheries within 200 miles of their own coastlines. The high seas beyond that zone do not belong to any nation, are not covered by any regulations and can only be protected by international agreement.

Once the five Arctic nations are in accord on a fishing moratorium, Benton said, they would then reach out to other countries with major commercial fishing fleets, such as China, Japan and Korea, to negotiate full protection for the central Arctic Ocean.

Benton, who advises the U.S. negotiating team, said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the Arctic nations would reach agreement during the three-day meeting, which begins Monday.

“The Arctic is experiencing a fairly rapid rate of change,” said Benton, as the permanent ice melts. “That’s potentially causing large changes in the ecosystem, but we don’t understand what’s going on up there. If we want to do things right, this is the approach we should be taking.”

In 2009, the United States adopted its own Arctic Fishery Management Plan, closing American waters north of Alaska to commercial fishing until scientific research proves that the fishery is sustainable.

“What the United States did in its waters was a precautionary action that takes into account how Arctic warming is changing the ecosystem faster than science can keep up with it,” said Scott Highleyman, director of the international Arctic program for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“There are no stock surveys or scientific assessments for fish there,” Highleyman said. “You don’t want to fish a place where you don’t know the fish population dynamics. Any time we’ve done that, it led to catastrophic overfishing.”

One example, Highleyman said, is the New England Atlantic cod fishery, which was shut down in the 1980s due to overfishing, costing 50,000 jobs.

There is much at stake in the central Arctic Ocean, of which about 1.1 million square miles are largely unregulated international waters. An open letter to the Arctic governments, signed by 2,000 scientists from around the world, notes the mysterious and fragile nature of the region.

If it is overfished, the scientists say, that will affect seals, whales and polar bears as well as the people who make the harsh region their home and rely on such creatures to feed their families.

“Until recently, the region has been covered with sea ice throughout the year, creating a physical barrier to the fisheries,” the scientists wrote. “In recent summers, however, the loss of permanent sea ice has left open water in as much as 40% of these international waters .… A commercial fishery in the central Arctic Ocean is now possible and feasible.” (Los Angeles Times)


Arctic Council´s international breakthrough

The foreign ministers of Russia, Sergey Larvrov, Norway, Espen Barth Eide, USA, John Kerry and Sweden Carl Bildt

The decision to invite six new nations as observers in the Arctic Council lifts the status of this forum to a new level, says Norway´s foreign minister Espen Barth Eide.

When the Arctic Council gathered for an evening dinner in Kiruna on Tuesday there where no time for small talk. The council had one important issue to solve before the official Arctic Council meeting on the 15th: Whether or not to include six new observer nations to the council.

“We were far beyond the main course before the decision to invite China or not was decided on, and nobody was really certain of the outcome when the debates started”, Barth Eide confirms.

But to Barth Eide´s relief they finally agreed on the role of the observer status and which rights are given to these new observers in the council. So in the morning of the 15th all council members signed the Kiruna Declaration in the City Hall of Kiruna.

Better international cooperation
Barth Eide highlights the decision as a breakthrough for the political status of the Arctic Council. And this breakthrough is not only important for the cooperation between the Arctic nations, but also for international cooperation across the world.

“The Kiruna Declaration confirms that the Arctic Council is the primary organisation for Arctic issues. It confirms that the basic principles of the Arctic Council are to lead the way for all decisions concerning the Arctic. It confirms that all nations will focus on preserving the environment of the Arctic and it also confirms that this organisation will have Indigenous Peoples as active participants”.

EU has to wait
However, one issue was not solved during the tough discussions of the evening dinner: The observer status of the European Union. It is agreed that also EU will become an observer in the council, however some details concerning their role must be solved first.

“EU and Canada have to solve some disputes first and seals are a major part of these remaining discussions”, says Barth Eide.

EU had outlined a suggestion for solving the disputes on sales of seal products, but Canada felt the new text was sent on a too short notice to make a decision. Therefore the final decision to include EU as an observer in the council will have to be postponed, but not for long. It can be decided within the next months in the chairmanship. Since Canada has taken over the chair of the Arctic Council it will probably be solved quite fast, according to Barth Eide.

Main goal
The Norwegian foreign minister is satisfied that Norway´s main goal for the Kiruna meeting was decided on. In his opinion the observer debate has taken all focus away from other and more important discussions on Arctic development.

“I look forward to discussing more important issues for the Arctic, like environment and climate. And we see also on this meeting that all member countries agree that this is the most important area to focus on in the years to come”. (Barents Observer)

Six new observers to Arctic Council

Heads of seven of the member delegations in Kiruna

China, India, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea and Singapore were all welcomed as new observer states by the Arctic Council during the ministerial meeting in Kiruna today.

China, Japan, Republic of Korea and Singapore are the first Asian countries to  gain observer status to the Arctic Council.

The European Union’s application for observer status was received affirmatively but has not yet been approved, as the union must first address several questions about its bid, including concerns on its ban on sea products from Canada, which today took over the chairmanship of the council from Sweden. The EU banned the import of seal products in 2009. It is an issue of key importance to Canada, as seal hunting is an important part of life for many indigenous groups. The EU was granted the right to observe council proceedings until a final decision is made.

The ministerial meeting also adopted an observer manual that will define what rights the observer states have and clarify which decisions that are not included in the observers’ mandate. (Barents Observer)

Russia to commit $8 bln to Siberian rail upgrades

Russia on Tuesday pledged more than $8 billion to upgrade its Far Eastern rail network, backing the development of links it said were crucial to the country’s economic future.

With growth in Asian markets such as China far outpacing that of their debt-stricken European counterparts, Russia wants to improve infrastructure in Siberia to support exports to countries where demand is greatest.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the state railway monopoly would get at least 260 billion roubles ($8.35 billion) to develop its Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) and Trans-Siberian routes by 2017 and suggested the money could come from national pension and welfare funds.

“Without substantial investment in the Far East we will not achieve any of our key goals – in this case there’s no magic spell,” Medvedev told a conference on development in the country’s Far East.


Il premier russo Dmitry Medvedev si è impegnato a investire entro il 2017 altri 260 miliardi di rubli (pari a circa 6,5 miliardi di euro) per modernizzare la leggendaria Transiberiana e la linea Baikal-Amur (Bam), che collegano la Siberia alla regione Pacifico-asiatica. Il miglioramento aumenterà la capacità delle due linee di 40 milioni di tonnellate di merci all’anno, che potranno incrementare le merci che arriveranno dai mercati in crescita della Cina e del resto dell’Asia.

“Senza investimenti sostanziali – ha detto Medvedev – in Estremo Oriente, non raggiungeremo i nostri obiettivi chiave: non ci sono incantesimi in questi casi”. (Reuters)

La Svezia appoggia la Corea del Sud al Consiglio Artico

La Corea del Sud ha soddisfatto le sue obbligazioni in termini di prospettive economiche, ambiente e sicurezza delle aree artiche, e quindi potrebbe entrare a far parte del Consiglio Artico: la richiesta di Seoul di diventarne un Osservatore Permanente avrà il massimo supporto dalla Svezia, che attualmente presiede il Consiglio. Lo ha detto lunedì scorso Lars Danielsson, ambasciatore svedese nel paese asiatico.

Il prossimo 15 maggio, in Svezia, si terrà il meeting delle otto Nazioni Artiche, che dovranno pronunciarsi sull’ammissione come Osservatore Permanente di alcuni paesi esterni all’area polare, ma con possibili futuri interessi in essa, tra cui appunto la Corea del Sud ma anche Cina e Giappone, per esempio.

“Ciò che serve adesso – ha spiegato Danielsson – è l’unanimità tra tutti gli Otto, e noi stiamo lavorando per creare quel consenso. Tuttavia, la nostra posizione principale è che la Corea del Sud sarebbe molto gradita”. (Global Post)