fishing boat in arctic

In the Arctic Ocean, at Least, Diplomacy Works

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December 8, 2017

Photo: By MicheleB / Shutterstock

By The Editors (Bloomberg View) — Amid resurgent nationalism and talk of nuclear war, it’s been a rough year for global diplomacy. So a 10-party agreement to protect the waters of the planet’s far north qualifies as a minor miracle.

For the next 16 years, commercial fishing will be prohibited in the central Arctic, a Mediterranean-sized patch of icy ocean more than 200 nautical miles from any nation’s coastline. This will give scientists time to study whether fishing might safely be allowed there. The goal is to avoid the overfishing that has depleted fish populations in other parts of the world — pollock in the Bering Strait, for instance, or krill in the Antarctic Ocean.

Until recently, ice made commercial fishing impossible in the central Arctic. But global warming has changed things. The ice now melts enough in summer to expose as much as 40 percent of the water.

The parties to the new agreement include countries with extensive Arctic coastlines (Russia, Canada), and major fishing industries (South Korea, China, Japan), as well as the United States and the European Union. They will next establish a polar research program so that scientists from around the world can survey the hundreds of species living in the central Arctic — as well as those drawn to the region’s warming waters — and learn how their food webs operate.

That this work will be done in international waters before any fishing trawlers arrive is unprecedented. That so many countries could reach such a sensible, ecologically sound agreement shows what people can achieve when they’re prepared to cooperate.

© 2017 Bloomberg L.P

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