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U.S. Commerce Secretary Freezes Arctic Fishing Expansion
WASHINGTON, DC, August 20, 2009 (ENS) - Once ice-bound even in summer, climate change now is thawing the Arctic in summer, opening up waters that commercial fishing interests are eager to harvest.

To prevent ecosystem damage due to commercial harvesting activity, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today decided to prohibit the expansion of commercial fishing in federal Arctic waters until researchers gather enough information on fish and the Arctic marine environment to put safeguards in place.

"As Arctic sea ice recedes due to climate change, there is increasing interest in commercial fishing in Arctic waters, said Locke. "We are in a position to plan for sustainable fishing that does not damage the overall health of this fragile ecosystem."

Fisheries managers have identified Arctic cod, saffron cod, and snow crab as likely initial target species for commercial fishing in the region.

"This plan takes a precautionary approach to any development of commercial fishing in an area where there has been none in the past, Locke said.

Arctic ice melting August 2006 (Photo courtesy NOAA)

The Arctic Fishery Management Plan approved today will be implemented through regulations to be published in the Federal Register.

The plan governs any future commercial fishing for finfish and shellfish in federal waters, except Pacific salmon and Pacific halibut, which are managed under other authorities.

It does not affect fisheries for salmon, whitefish and shellfish in Alaskan waters near the Arctic shore.

Subsistence fishing or hunting in the Arctic are not affected by the management plan.

Under the plan, in any new Arctic fisheries that may be approved in the future, fishermen will be required to keep records that will help determine catch, production, effort, price, and other information necessary for conservation and management.

Fishermen may be required to carry certified fisheries observers on board in order to verify catch quantity and composition, track at-sea discards, and collect biological information on marine resources.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA's Fisheries Service will establish prescribed procedures before authorizing a future fishery, and will monitor and adjust the plan periodically.

These adjustments might include annual total allowable catch levels and in-season adjustments through gear modifications, closures, fishing area restrictions, and quota restrictions.

In 2006, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council began considering options for fishery management in the Arctic, seeking input from communities on Alaska's North Slope and other stakeholders to consider management options.

The council voted to prohibit commercial fisheries until researchers gather sufficient information on fish and the Arctic marine environment.

Click here to read the Arctic Fishery Management Plan.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.

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