The Week Ahead: Sustainable fisheries, sustainable seal hunting, sustainable development goals

By Kevin McGwin, Arctic Now - November 27, 2017

The Week Ahead is a preview of some of the events related to the region that will be in the news in the coming week. If you have a topic you think ought to be profiled in a coming week, please contact us.

This week, representatives from the five Arctic coastal states, four other big fishing nations and the EU gather in Washington, D.C., for the final round of negotiations over a pre-emptive fishing moratorium in the central part of the Arctic Ocean.

Implementing a moratorium would allow scientists time to come up with guidance on sustainable fishing practices that would lay the foundation for a management regime similar to those already in place for other high-seas areas of the world’s oceans.

Talks resume this week in Washington, D.C. over a preemptive moratorium on fishing the international waters of the Arctic Ocean. (The Pew Charitable Trusts)
Talks resume this week in Washington, D.C. over a preemptive moratorium on fishing the international waters of the Arctic Ocean. (The Pew Charitable Trusts)

The area of the Arctic Ocean in question is nearly the same size as the Mediterranean Sea. Currently, there are too few fish and too much sea ice to make commercial fishing there feasible, but the on-going decline of ice makes it likely that fishing there will begin at some point.

The five Arctic coastal states (Canada; Denmark, on behalf of Greenland; Norway; Russia and the US) all agreed in 2015 to not fish in their own 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zones in the Arctic. Until there is an agreement among countries with the capacity to operate beyond those boundaries, any fishing there would be legal but completely unregulated.

All the parties involved, which also include China, Iceland, Japan and South Korea, agree on the benefit of waiting to begin commercial fishing.

What has prevented a deal from being reached during the previous five rounds of talks is an agreement on when fishing could begin. At issue is whether the ‘trigger mechanism’, permitting the shift from research and limited exploratory fishing to full-blown commercial operations, could be tripped by a majority of the parties to the management agreement or if it could only begin after a general consensus is reached.

“How do we make that transition? It turns out there are some fairly different views about that,” David Balton, the career U.S. diplomat who has led the negotiations, told The Atlantic earlier this year.

In October, Balton told Arctic Now that the November 28-30 meeting would be the last round of talks. Despite cautioning that “nothing [about the deal] is agreed, until everything is agreed,” he expressed optimism about the prospects that a moratorium deal would be concluded.

“I am convinced that with just a little bit of creativity and some good will, we will get there,” he said.

It later emerged that, after more than two decades with the State Department, serving most recently as deputy assistant secretary for oceans and fisheries, Balton would join the Wilson Center, a Washington think-tank, where he will work on polar issues.

Grabbing the seal by the code

Also this week, representatives from Greenland will be in Brussels to once again take up the issue of how to shield ‘traditional’ seal products from the European Union’s ban on the import of items made from commercially hunted seal.

Various iterations of the EU’s ban on seal products, the most recent of which dates to 2015, have left open the possibility that products from Inuit regions could be sold in the EU, provided it could be proven the seals were killed as part of non-industrial hunting.

The legislation also states that the union supports measures to inform Europe’s 500 million consumers about the so-called Inuit exemption. Hunters’ groups have previously complained, however, that no funding is set aside for such measures and that their own limited resources make it all but impossible for them to set up their campaigns themselves.

As a result, sales of sealskin products have failed to recover from a decline that, according to hunters’ own calculations, has seen the sale of sealskin in Europe drop by 90 percent since 2006.

Rather than relying on Brussels to take steps to rebuild the market, hunters’ associations, together with national authorities and commercial outfits that deal in sealskin have in recent years actively sought to influence lawmakers, the fashion industry and consumers by playing up sealskin as a natural product that jibes with today’s focus on sustainability.

In addition to meeting with representatives from the European Commission and the European Parliament, the Greenlandic delegation, led by Karl-Kristian Kruse, the fishing and hunting minister, will present an initiative drawn up by Great Greenland, a nationally controlled furrier, to label all its sealskins with QR codes that will allow importers and consumers to verify their authenticity as an Inuit product.

These are tough times for traditional products. The solution, it turns out, may be a technological measure.

Supporting the SDGs

On the conference circuit, the Danish foreign ministry on Friday will take up the issue of the UN’s sustainable development goals in the Arctic during a one-day meeting in Copenhagen.

The 17 SDGs focus on a broad range of environmental, social and economic issues and have emerged as a major theme in the Arctic as governments that have a say in the region seek to stimulate economic growth and improve the outlook for residents, without undermining the natural environment that has shaped the region’s culture.

In keeping with the Arctic Council’s statement of the need to implement the SDGs by 2030, Helsinki has included them as a part of the Finnish chairmanship, proposing that the council “explore how the SDGs can be further used in strengthening the economic and social progress and cultural self-expression of Arctic communities.”

The Copenhagen gathering answers that call by asking how the SDGs can keep the Arctic “peaceful, prosperous and sustainable.”

Other events

11th Arctic Shipping Summit

Arctic shipping experts and stakeholders gather in London November 29 and 30 to discuss the development of viable and profitable business ventures in the Arctic, as well as the regulations, environmental considerations and logistical complexities that underpin its development.

XIII BEAC Ministerial Meeting on Environment

Environment ministers from the Barents region meet in Vadsø, Norway, November 29 and 30. The meeting marks the transfer of the group’s two-year chairmanship from Norway to Sweden. (Read more.)

International conference Arctic Wildlife: Preserving Biodiversity, Assessing Ecosystems

Scientists gather in Arkhangelsk, Russia from November 30 to December 3 for a meeting organised by the Russian Academy of Sciences and marking ‘the Year of the Environment’.

Joint Committee on Rescue Co-operation meeting

The Barents Euro-Arctic Council’s Joint Committee on Rescue Co-operation meets in Gimo, Sweden from November 30 to December 1. The JCRC works to make most of the widely dispersed resources in the region in order to improve co-operation among rescue-service agencies at the national, federal and regional level on emergency and rescue issues. (Read more.)

Circumpolar arts workshop

The cultural traditions of the Inuit, Saami and other Arctic groups gather in Iqaluit on December 1 for a workshop sponsored by the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association. (Read more.)