The US North Pacific Fishery Management Council, spurred by concerns that commercial fishing fleets looking for untapped sources are about to enter waters off northern Alaska opened up by the break-up of the Arctic ice pack, voted Feb. 5 to close those waters to fishing pending studies on the health and sustainability of fish living under the now-retreating ice pack.
The order covers a nearly 200,000-square-mile area stretching from the Bering Strait to the US maritime boundary with the Canadian Arctic. The plan will be forwarded to the US Commerce Department for final approval, and would be a boost to State Department efforts to negotiate similar closures off the Arctic coasts of Canada and Russia.
There are currently no commercial harvests in the federal waters of the US Arctic, which stretch from three to as far as 200 miles offshore through the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. But pressures to fish those areas could increase if warming waters cause a migration there of pollock and other species that now sustain major harvests farther south in the Bering Sea. (The Guardian, NPR, Feb. 6)