The return of the Arctic Five

By Heather Exner-Pirot

Alaska Dispatch News

Earlier this month, the five Arctic Ocean coastal states signed a much heralded moratorium on fishing in the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean, or more specifically, adopted “interim measures to prevent unregulated fishing.”

As the states themselves acknowledge, there is no commercial fishing there now and it is unlikely there will be any in the near future. However, they agreed to apply the precautionary principle, and ensured that if and when Arctic ecosystems evolve to reflect climate changes and commercial fisheries become viable, none will take place until a suitable regional fisheries management organization is in place.

The Arctic fishing ban, as it’s being called, was almost universally celebrated, from the New York Times to the Inuit Circumpolar Council, and even the perpetually disappointed Greenpeace provided faint praise. The Globe and Mail called it “remarkable”, “a rare example of countries co-operating to protect a sensitive environment before it is threatened” and “unusually mature diplomacy” given the overriding tensions between Canada and others with Russia over its intervention into Ukraine.

The ban is significant and the praise is merited. But it could not be in greater contrast to the reception the Arctic Five got the last time they went out in public, in Chelsea, Quebec in 2010. Does the fishing deal mark the return of the Arctic Five?

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