Alaska Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski are urging President Barack Obama to raise two important international fisheries issues when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-8 Summit next month: securing an international fisheries agreement for the high seas of the Central Arctic Ocean, and a multilateral agreement with Russia to cooperate on illegal fishing on the high seas.
"The waters north of the U.S. and Russian Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) are experiencing significant loss of multi-year sea ice," Begich and Murkowski said in their letter to Obama this week. "Much of this area is of fishable depth and the waters are now open for several months each year. Exploratory research is already being conducted by non-coastal states and exploratory fishing may not be far behind. We believe the time to secure such an international agreement is before non-coastal states begin exploratory fishing in the region."
A Senate Resolution passed in 2008 called on the United States to "negotiate an agreement or agreements for managing migratory, transboundary, and straddling fish stocks in the Arctic Ocean" and, until such an agreement comes into force, to "support international efforts to halt the expansion of commercial fishing activities in the high seas of the Arctic Ocean." The intent was to avoid a similar occurrence from happening in the Arctic by securing an international agreement before any fishing begins.
"If unregulated or speculative fisheries were to commence in the region before we have the necessary scientific information and governance structures in place, there could be significant consequences for the Arctic marine environment and the people who live there," the senators said.
"This pirate fishing puts unsustainable pressure on fish stocks, marine mammals and habitats; ignores fair labor standards and distorts seafood markets," the senators said. "Last year, special agents of the National Marine Fisheries Service working with colleagues in the Russian Border Guard seized 112 tons of illegal king crab but our law enforcement investigators realized a formal agreement with Russia was needed to better track harvests and trafficking of product, and allow for information sharing between the two countries on suspected acts of and suspects involved in Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing."
The agreement would also allow for cooperative at-sea inspections between the U.S. Coast Guard and Russian Border Guard of U.S. and Russian flagged vessels engaged in IUU activity.
"This bilateral agreement would complement the Agreement on Port States Measures and we ask you to take advantage of your upcoming meetings with President Putin to encourage him to work with you on both the Central Arctic fisheries and IUU initiatives," the senators concluded. "This summit provides an unprecedented opportunity for the United States to demonstrate leadership on these important matters and further cooperation between our two nations."