Canada ratifies agreement blocking commercial fishing in the High Arctic
Ice floes float in Baffin Bay between Canada and Greenland above the Arctic circle on July 10, 2008. (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
OTTAWA -- Canada has ratified an agreement that would prevent commercial fishing in the High Arctic for 16 years.
The deal was initially signed last October by Canada and nine other governments but won't be enforceable until all parties ratify the agreement.
The governments that have signed the agreement include Norway, the United States, China, Iceland, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Denmark, but it has been ratified only by Canada, the European Union, and the Russian Federation.
Other governments are expected to ratify the agreement quickly, said Scott Highleyman of Ocean Conservancy, an environmental group that has monitored the talks.
"The other countries said they're on their way. There continues to be very positive indications that all of these countries continue to think this is really important to co-operate on."
Arctic experts have called the treaty a rare example of governments co-operating in advance of a problem, instead of just reacting to it.
The agreement applies to northern waters at least 200 nautical miles away from the shores of any coastal state, which amounts to 2.8 million square kilometres of ocean, about the size of the Mediterranean Sea.
No commercial fishing currently takes place in the High Arctic, but fish stocks are shifting and fishers and scientists have wondered what the northernmost seas on the planet hold.
It also provides for the participation and inclusion of Arctic Indigenous Peoples and their communities, recognizing the critical value of their local knowledge in the conservation of the Arctic Ocean.
Highleyman said the signatories are now discussing how the treaty should be implemented. That includes coming up with an extensive program of scientific research and monitoring.
"That takes a lot of organizing. There's a huge gap in our knowledge, it's the area around the North Pole and it's really hard to get research vessels out there."
The countries are also figuring out how Indigenous traditional knowledge will be part of that work.
"There's a lot of discussion on how do you do that."
Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said in a statement that Canada is leading the way to protect the oceans, combat illegal fishing and help protect the Arctic's fragile ecosystems for future generations.