The Arctic Ocean, home to rare and endangered species, has been one of the last unexploited places on Earth. But as the Arctic heats up twice as fast as the rest of the planet, parts of its waters are now 4ºC too hot. This contributes to ocean acidification, reduced oxygenation, and overall contamination. Commercial fishing of any kind only exacerbates the destruction of this critically vulnerable ecosystem, harming fish and whale populations and their unique habitats, and polluting what’s left of this pristine environment. All of this has an impact on our atmosphere and on oceans globally, as steering currents and weather patterns go out of balance. In effect, the Arctic Ocean is sick with a fever that threatens us all.
Large fishing vessels are already moving to capitalize on the disappearance of sea ice. Many engage in bottom trawling, which drag heavily weighted nets across the ocean floor, damaging the seabed and all marine life in their path. This includes seagrasses, coral reefs or rock gardens where fish hide from predators. Threatened species, including blue whales, fin whales and Greenland sharks, swim in these waters.
Nine nations and the European Union have banned unregulated commercial fishing in the Arctic High Seas for 16 years. But the agreement is symbolic at best, since it extends only to the relatively small stretch of international waters around the North Pole. None of these nations has committed to stop commercial fishing in the coastal areas where the ice is melting first, and where commercial fishing vessels are most active.
The Global Challenge of Sustainable Fishery
Because of the remote and icy nature of the Arctic Ocean, we know little of the fish populations in these waters and how commercial fishing could affect them. At the same time, our world’s track record for sustainable fishery is dismal. According to United Nations estimates, over 80 percent of global fisheries are either “fully exploited”, “overexploited”, or “depleted”. Only one percent is “recovering”. How can we expose the most vulnerable ocean on the planet to this risk?
A sick Arctic Ocean is no place to fish. MAPS, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary, permanently bans all commercial fishing in the entire Arctic Ocean above the Arctic Circle. That’s why we need MAPS now.