On Thursday the United States decided to ban commercial fishing in its 200,000 square miles of national waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. The goal of this wise decision is not to forever ban fishing in the Arctic, but to know what we're doing before we fish. The Arctic is changing fast. The spectacular loss of ice over the last four years is one of the planet's most striking examples of global warming.
Less ice also opens Arctic waters to more oil and gas development, expanded international shipping and, potentially, commercial fishing.
Cod and snow crab would be likely targets of industrial fishing operations. There is no such fishing in this area of the Arctic now. So now is the right time for the ban, until managers have a better idea of how the ecosystems work and how to make the right rules for sustainable fisheries.
The ban does not apply to Alaskans' subsistence fishing or commercial fisheries already under management plans, like Pacific salmon and halibut.
Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Thursday the ban is "the first fisheries management plan to be proactive," aiming to set rules in advance before large-scale fishing gets under way.
With the ban, the United States takes a lead role in wise use of the Arctic. That's a lead we should keep.
BOTTOM LINE: Arctic fishing ban is good stewardship, smart policy.