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)

 

Boeing 777 crashes at San Francisco International Airport

A Boeing 777 operated by Asiana Airlines crashed while landing Saturday at San Francisco International Airport.

Flight 214 left Seoul’s Incheon International Airport earlier Saturday and flew 10 hours and 23 minutes to California, according to FlightAware, a website that offers tracking services for private and commercial air traffic. Two people are confirmed dead and 181 others have been taken to hospital (49 in serious condition). Somehow, 305 others survived.

Video taken soon after the crash and posted on YouTube showed dark gray smoke rising from the plane, which appeared to be upright. That smoke later became white, even as fire crews continued to douse the plane.

The top of the aircraft was charred and, in spots, gone entirely, according to video from CNN affiliate KTVU. The plane was on its belly, with no landing gear evident and the rear tail of the plane gone.

Fire trucks were on site, while first responders could be seen walking outside the aircraft. Evacuation slides could be seen extending from one side of the aircraft, from which there was no apparent smoke.

Corrine Gaines, from the U.S. Coast Guard’s operations in San Francisco, said that a helicopter from the Guard had been launched and that her agency is helping others responding at the scene.

There were a few clouds in the sky around the time of the crash, and temperatures were about 65 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Winds were about 8 miles per hour.

Asiana Airlines is one of South Korea’s two major airlines, the other being Korean Air. It operates many of its flights out of Incheon International Airport, which is the largest airport in South Korea and considered among the busiest in the world. The Boeing 777-200LR has been in service since March 2006. The plane can carry 301 passengers and travel a maximum distance of 9,395 nautical miles. Asiana Airlines operates 71 aircraft and serves 14.7 million passengers annually. The airline was voted Airline of the Year by Global Traveler in 2011. In 1993, Asiana Airlines Boeing 737 crashed killing 68 people.

San Francisco International Airport, located some 12 miles south of downtown San Francisco, is California’s second busiest, behind LAX in Los Angeles.

According to information on Asiana Airlines’ website, the company has 12 Boeing 777 planes. They have a seating capacity of between 246 and 300 people and had a cruising speed of 555 mph (894 kph). (CNN)

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)

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)