Federal fishery regulators Thursday approved an unprecedented plan to ban U.S. commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean.
The Anchorage-based North Pacific Fishery Management Council spent two years developing the Arctic plan in response to climate change and the rapid retreat of sea ice in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas along Alaska's northern coast.
Some scientists and fishing industry players say it's conceivable that commercially valuable seafood species such as pollock or crab populations could expand in the Arctic, which could draw fishing fleets. So far, no fishing of any major scale occurs in the Arctic, and the few surveys of fish stocks there don't show large populations. Still, the council, meeting in Seattle this week, decided to write an Arctic Fishery Management Plan to control commercial fisheries should they develop.
The council, made up mostly of government and industry representatives from Alaska, Oregon and Washington, oversees the state's major offshore fisheries in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. It voted 11-0 in favor of the Arctic plan.
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The plan essentially bans commercial fishing across the entire Arctic region from the Canadian border down to the Bering Strait. The area could be opened in the future, however, based on research showing that fisheries could be conducted sustainably and without harm to an ecosystem populated with seabirds, seals, whales and other species important to Native residents as subsistence food.
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