Arctic Waters to
Alaska: The United States has closed 200,000 square miles of Arctic waters north of the Bering Strait to commercial fishing. This gives scientists more time to learn about the health of the Arctic Ocean's ecosystems. It will also determine the impacts of large-scale fishing.
The regulations do not affect subsistence fishing. In fact, they are designed to protect these ecosystems central to subsistence. Conservationists are very pleased. They want a similar approach by other industries and nations.
“This is ‘doing it right’ in the Arctic—there is a desperate need for more science to be done before we add any more stress to an area already feeling the heat of climate change,” said Dr. Chris Krenz from Oceana. “We need a rush of scientists into the Arctic, not an armada of cargo ships, oil platforms and fishing trawlers.”
These same U.S. Arctic waters now face the invading oil industry. Plans have been approved for drilling in the Beaufort Sea next summer. A similar plan is under review for the Chukchi Sea. Scientists, local communities, and others want a science-based approach and regulations for oil drilling. They point to higher risks of oil spills in the Arctic, and the inability to contain, control or clean up an accident in icy waters .
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Arctic communities strongly support the Arctic fishing protections. Now they worry that oil and gas activities -- including seismic testing and oil spills risks -- will affect the bowhead whales and other animals vital to their food supply.
"MMS [Minerals Management Service] will begin drilling in the U.S. Arctic Ocean next July using the same inadequate and out of date science that led fisheries managers to close the region to commercial fishing,” said Krenz. “One of the reasons Americans elected President Obama is because they believe in sustainable development based on sound science and demonstrated response capabilities. MMS and Shell continue on an unrelenting course that MMS records indicate are likely to bring a major spill and calamity to the Arctic.”
The U.S. State Department and other Arctic nations may expand the U.S. Arctic fishing protections across international boundaries. This would set a worldwide precedent of putting management in place before commercial fishing occurs.