A proposed international agreement to ban fishing around the North Pole could be just the thing to warm Canadian-Russian relations, a top arctic and international law expert said this weekend.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama announced that they would call for a binding international agreement to prevent unregulated commercial fishing in the central Arctic Ocean following Trudeau’s official visit to the U.S. earlier this month.
Fisheries and Oceans Minister Hunter Tootoo highlighted the importance of an international agreement given the changes to arctic sea ice on CTV’s Question Period Sunday.
“We don’t have enough information as to what’s there, you know what kind of fish are there, how many. So we want to get a ban on that until we know what’s there,” he said, noting there are commitments to conduct scientific research in the area.
Both Canada and the U.S. are currently signatories to a voluntary five-country moratorium that bans commercial fishing in the area, along with Russia, Norway, and Denmark.
There has been one round of negotiations to expand the voluntary moratorium, but the latest announcement would push future negotiations further into a binding agreement that would include countries with major long-range commercial fishing industries, including Japan, China, and Spain.
Canada has offered to host the next round of negotiations.
“What they are almost certainly aiming for is something called a regional fisheries management organization, RFMO, along the lines of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization or the Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission,” Byers said.
These are organizations that assign science-based quotas to any member state that wishes to fish in that region. They govern the high seas beyond each coastal country’s exclusive economic zone. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea each country has jurisdiction over natural resources in their exclusive economic zones, which extend no more than 200 nautical miles from shore.
Byers is optimistic that a new regional fisheries management organization or something similar will be developed to govern the central Arctic Ocean, although it wasn’t until recently that he felt this hopeful.
“The Harper government was not enthusiastic about this, presumably because it involved both international law and Russia, two things that the Harper government was suspicious about,” he said.
“Russia is an indispensable actor,” said Byers, noting Russia has the largest exclusive economic zone in the Arctic and could potentially block any form of legal agreement.
“I think the kind of messages we’ve heard from Foreign Minister (Stephane) Dion about an openness to working with Russia are the sorts of things that could make this happen,” said Byers.
He said he hopes to see Dion travel to Russia soon to meet with his counterpart there and emphasize the value of arctic cooperation to both countries.
Author Ainslie Cruickshank Posted on March 20, 2016