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Accord would regulate fishing in Arctic waters

Andrew E. Kramer

MOSCOW -- It was once protected by ice. Now regulation will have to do the work.

The governments of the five countries with coastline on the Arctic have concluded that enough of the polar ice cap now melts regularly in the summertime that an agreement regulating commercial fishing near the North Pole is warranted.

Talks are scheduled for later this month among diplomats and fisheries officials from Norway, Denmark, Canada, the United States and Russia. Most concern is focused on newly ice-free waters above the Bering Strait, above the exclusive economic zones of Russia and the United States, and now accessible to trawler fleets from hungry Pacific Ocean nations like China and Japan.

An accord would protect the open water until the fish stocks there can be more fully studied.

Though supported by conservationists, the agreement's principal intention is not to conserve this new fish habitat, formed by the receding of polar ice as the world warms up. The intention of an accord, backed by fishing industries in the coastal nations, is to manage for commercial exploitation any stocks of fish that already inhabit the ocean but used to live under the ice, such as Arctic cod, as well as fish that may migrate into the new ice-free zone from farther south, as the ocean warms.

Russia had been a holdout in the negotiations, started by the United States five years ago. But the upper chamber of Russian's Parliament, the Federation Council, signaled support for the agreement last year. Talks are scheduled to begin April 29 in Washington, the State Department has confirmed.

If successful, it will represent the third such accord struck by countries in the far north to manage the commercial development and industrialization of the region, which is expected to increase with global warming.

The fishing accord would regulate commercial harvests in an area farther offshore -- in the so-called doughnut hole of the Arctic Ocean. This is a Texas-sized area of international water that includes the North Pole and is encircled by the exclusive economic zones of the coastal countries.

The part of the doughnut hole that is thawing most quickly in the eastern Arctic, above Alaska and the Russian region of Chukotka, is well within the range of industrial fishing fleets in Asia.

Chinese trawlers fish for krill in Antarctic waters, about 7,500 miles from China. The Arctic Ocean international zone is only about 5,000 miles from the Chinese coast, according to maps prepared by a Russian fisheries journal, Rybnye Resorsi.


By ANDREW E. KRAMER
The New York Times