Life in the Arctic is changing dramatically, as the ice sheet melts due to climate change. Estimates predict that as early as 2040, polar bears could be out of ice to roam on during the summer. This is bad news for most, but for the fishing industry in the region it opens up new business opportunities and there is big money to make, especially since large areas of the Arctic are not yet covered by international fishing regulations.
However, over-fishing in the Arctic proves risky, not only to the region.
“Unregulated fishing in the Arctic region has enormous potential consequences for the ecosystem of the area and eventually the whole world, as the Arctic is such a wide spanning area,” says Torkel Gissel Nielsen, professor at the National Environmental Research Institute, Aarhus University, who shared his research with the “Beyond Kyoto” conference on Thursday.
Torkel Gissel Nielsen explains that Arctic ecosystems are particularly sensitive to climate change and other environmental stresses such as unregulated fishing that threaten their myriad species, from tiny zooplankton to bowhead whales and polar bears.
European action needed
So far, commercial fishing in the Arctic is limited, even though some of the world’s most productive fisheries are located there. The Barents Sea cod fishery and the Russian Far Eastern Alaska pollock fishery alone account for between 20 and 25 percent of the global catch of whitefish.
The USA has already decided to ban industrial fishing in an area spanning 200.000 square miles (380.000 km2) – the size of California – whereas a European effort to conserve the fragile Arctic waters is still missing.
In a document addressed to the European parliament, the European Commission warned that the Arctic region is “increasingly at risk from the combined effects of climate change and increased human activity.” For some of the Arctic high seas waters there is not yet an international conservation and management regime in place, and the European Commission warns that this “might lead to unregulated fisheries.”
By Janus Bek Julin