This Thursday, the Anchorage-based North Pacific Fishery Management Council[1] approved an unprecedented plan to ban commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean, as a part of their Arctic Fishery Management Plan. The council voted 11-0 in favour of the plan, which essentially bans all commercial fishing from the Canadian border down to the Bering Strait, and it is now up to the U.S. Commerce secretary to approve or reject the ban.

Before approving the ban, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council spent two years developing an Arctic Fishery Management Plan in response to global warming and the retreat of sea ice along Alaska’s northern coast. As of today, fishing is not carried out on any major scale in the Arctic Ocean, but commercially interesting species like crab and pollock may expand in this part of the sea and this could make the area attractive for fishing fleets. The council therefore decided to develop a plan in advance to be prepared for any future developments.

Environmentalists and fishing industry groups alike have praised the Arctic Plan, since both parties recognize the need to enforce strong management control over the Arctic Ocean. We still know very little about life in this remote part of the world and the few fish stock surveys that has been carried out in these waters has not managed to find any larger fish populations. The area could be opened up for regulated commercial fishing in the future, if more thorough research of the Arctic Ocean would show that sustainable fishing could be carried out without injuring the ecosystem.

Climate change is having a significant effect on the Arctic, opening previously ice-covered waters and drawing cold-water species farther north,” says Dave Benton of the Alaskan Marine Conservation Alliance[2]. “The council’s action to close these waters as a precautionary measure gives us the opportunity to conduct the scientific review necessary to develop a plan for how sustainable fisheries might be conducted in the Arctic in the future.


The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) is a regional council established by the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976 to oversee management of the nation’s fisheries. The council has primary responsibility for groundfish management in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) and Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) and jurisdiction over the 900,000 square mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off Alaska. The council consists mostly of government and industry representatives from Alaska, Oregon and Washington.