Committee on Fisheries
Chaired by Margarida Conceição (PT). Covered by Charlotte Vanhandenhove (BE)
With the ice melting, the ocean warming, and migration patterns changing, fishing in the Arctic could become easier and more attractive for commercial fishing. Bearing in mind the ban on commercial fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean signed in 2018, how should Arctic states work towards a long-term approach to fishing and fishing management in the region, both within exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and international waters?
Executive summary
The International Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean has marked a change in paradigm regarding the management of fisheries, as the most significant measure taken at a large scale to prevent potential harm to the fragile ecosystems of the region. It follows a collection of local and regional bans on commercial fishing and several urges from the scientific community towards proper research and monitoring ahead of the harvesting of the Artic’s newly available resources.

However, one must pose the question of how the sharply rising interest in commercial fishing in the Arctic will affect the viability of these measures and, thus, how can both perspectives be balanced in order to create the most efficient future for the region. In this process, issues such as the needs of indigenous communities, increasing international tensions between Arctic states, the role of science in decision-making, the changing stocks and migration patterns of marine living resources and the role of local versus international decision-making must all be considered. How can the Arctic’s commercial fishing go beyond preventive and precautionary measures and start building the future of region? What role will the conflicts currently present in the region play?
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In 2018, 9 countries and the EU signed the International Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean, which entered into force in 2021. It established a joint program of scientific research and monitoring to evaluate the sustainability of the harvesting of the Central Arctic Ocean’s resources. Therefore, this represents a proactive and preventive measure, which seeks to understand how climate change and the opening of new shipping and fishing routes could affect the region, before allowing commercial fishing to take place.

However, the ban on commercial fishing also left governments and people around the world with numerous unanswered questions, following this dramatic change of course of action: What will commercial fishing in the Arctic look like in the long-term? How will we be able to harvest its essential resources while being mindful of environmental challenges and respecting Indigenous communities’ interests? How will the changes of the next 16 to 21 years affect the governments’ decisions?

Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, the United States, Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea
Exploring the Arctic Ocean: the Agreement that Protects an Unknown Ecosystem
Fundamental Challenges
Several small-scale disputes in the Arctic have historically emerged from the competition over marine living resources. Despite their resolution in the past through agreements and multilateral cooperation, recently these conflicts have been brought back to light due to the retreating sea ice and climate change altering the resources’ distribution.
Three notable cases of conflict occur in the Bering Sea, in which United States-Russia competition and diverging approaches have taken centre stage, in the Barents Sea and in the North Atlantic, where arguments over quotas affected by new migration patterns have predominated. These issues have mostly been kept separate from other topics of conflict in the region, however it is unlikely that the issue’s sensitivity will diminish in the near future, so its potential to accelerate further action should not be overlooked.1
Oftentimes, scientific advice has been a key element in preventing present and future conflicts in the Arctic region, with reliable information being crucial for building trust in proposed and current cooperation and management regimes. However, as the future of the Arctic Ocean becomes more unpredictable, stakeholders have oftentimes opted for ignoring, overselecting or hiding relevant information in the decision-making process.2
For example, in 2020, fishing vessels were targeted by the Russian military within the American exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The around 90 Russian warships and military aircraft's goal was to secure economic development in the North Pacific.
The United States (under the leadership of President Biden) has opted for an approach focused on environmental sustainability, while Russia has been moving towards more economic development in the region.
Jen Evans & Andreas Østhagen (2021). Fisheries Disputes: The Real Potential for Arctic Conflict. The Arctic Institute. Link
Jen Evans & Andreas Østhagen (2021). Fisheries Disputes: The Real Potential for Arctic Conflict. The Arctic Institute. Link
Key stakeholders
The Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) is the branch of the European Commission responsible for developing and carrying out policies that ensure the sustainability of the ocean resources, coastal communities, and the fishing sector, thus protecting the maritime environment while maintaining the EU’s competitiveness. It frequently works with global partners in the management and governance of the world’s oceans to reach its goals. One of its most relevant areas of influence is the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which falls under the exclusive competence of the EU3 in regards to the conservation of marine biological resources. Other topics regarding fishing are within the realm of the shared competences of the EU, meaning that the European Commission and DG MARE frequently collaborate with Member States in these subjects.4
Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union - Article 2 (7.6.2016). Division of competences within the European Union. Link
Directorate-General MARE. Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. European Commission. Link
The Arctic Council. Cooperation for a sustainable Arctic Ocean. Link
IMO. Introduction to IMO. Link
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Fisheries and Aquaculture. Link
 UNEP - UN Environment Programme. Oceans & Seas. Link
However, the ice melting experienced in the Arctic region has led to an increased interest in fishing in the area. Several factors contribute to this, including the changes occurring in migration patterns of the most popular species and the opening of new fishing routes. An example of the first catalyst mentioned is that species that before used to inhabit the Barents Sea have seen themselves forced to move northward, in search for waters that match the colder temperatures needed for their survival, with bigger-sized fishes taking advantage of the newly-freed space.11 12 13 On the other hand, with ice decreasing navigation in the Arctic Ocean has been eased, thus creating a near-race to taking advantage of the Arctic’s resources, as showcased by the increasing relevance of and interest in the Northwest and Northeast Passages.
Marine resources have been an essential mean of subsistence for as long as there are memories and records of humanity’s existence, particularly in the areas of food and navigation. Until around 1960, this harvesting activity has never presented a serious threat to the natural balance of marine environments. However, since then, the proportion of resources taken by human beings has more than doubled9, with fishing fleets expanding rapidly and techniques becoming more effective. This has resulted in an overwhelming overfishing status quo, with fish stocks drastically decreasing, to the point in which traditional fishing is no longer sustainable both in the short and long term. The FAO estimates that 75% of marine species are either exploited to the full, overexploited or have already become locally extinct.10 Furthermore, climate change has further increased these consequences, as the increased water temperatures and other factors have diminished the oceans’ capacities to renew their resources.
Historical context
 EDUCAPOLES (2010). Fishing in the Arctic And Antarctic: Exploiting Living Resources.  International Polar Foundation (IPF). Link
 EDUCAPOLES (2010). Fishing in the Arctic And Antarctic: Exploiting Living Resources.  International Polar Foundation (IPF). Link
Steven E. Campana, Ragnhildur B. Stefánsdóttir, Klara Jakobsdóttir & Jón Sólmundsson (2020). Shifting fish distributions in warming sub-Arctic oceans. Scientific Reports. Link
Caitlyn Kennedy (2015). Warming waters shift fish communities northward in the Arctic. Link
Ben Goldfarb (2017). Feeling the Heat: How Fish Are Migrating from Warming Waters. Yale Environment 360. Link
Measures in place
In 2021, the International Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean entered into force for a period of 16 years, with a potential extension for another 5. This agreement follows an open letter calling for a moratorium on commercial fishing in the Arctic, which was signed in 2012 by more than 2000 scientists.14 Its goal is to take appropriate time to study the area, which is roughly the size of the Mediterranean Sea, and evaluate the sustainability of the harvesting of the Central Arctic Ocean’s resources, through the joint program of scientific research and monitoring, thus building a more relevant knowledge of its ecosystems and fish stocks. A notable aspect of this agreement is that it was developed in collaboration with Arctic Indigenous peoples15, thus ensuring that they will be included in the process moving forward and valuing their interests and knowledge.

The Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Strategic Plan 2015-2025 (AMSP) guides the Council’s actions to protect marine and coastal ecosystems and promote sustainable development. One of its main priorities is to create a better understanding of the region and the impacts of the changes currently occurring in it, in order to ease the adaptation of Arctic inhabitants.16 This plan presents four strategic goals, which cover the areas of scientific research, protection of ecosystems, sustainable use of marine resources, and the economic, social and cultural well-being of Arctic inhabitants, including Indigenous peoples.17
Eilís Quinn (2021). Central Arctic Ocean fishing moratorium comes into effect. The Barents Observer. Link
 Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2021). International Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. Government of Canada. Link
 The Arctic Council. Cooperation for a sustainable Arctic Ocean. Link
Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment - PAME (2019). Arctic Council Arctic Marine Strategic Plan 2015-2025 – Status of Implementation 2017-2019. Arctic Council. Link
Local impact
Previously and alongside the International Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean, several Arctic countries have already put into place similar commercial fishing bans in their EEZs, which are not covered by the aforementioned agreement. An example of such policies is the United States’ Fishery Management Plan for Fish Resources of the Arctic Management Area (Arctic FMP) which was established by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, with its implementation taking place in collaboration with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Approved in 2009, this action recognised the potential risk that the development of commercial fishing could bring to the ecosystem of the Arctic EEZ off Alaska and the lack of appropriate regulation to tackle it. Effectively, it closed all federal waters of the United States’ Arctic to all kinds of commercial fishing and prevented further regulation on this matter to take place at a local level.18

On a different perspective, the impact that these commercial fishing bans have on local Indigenous communities has largely been overlooked. Maritime resources are vital in the diets and livelihoods of Arctic Indigenous people, thus making food and economic security, culture and well-being in their regions highly dependent on their availability. Therefore, it is essential to include indigenous perspectives when developing plans for the future of commercial fishing in the Arctic, in order to ensure a sustainable and self-determined future for these communities. Some of the needs mentioned by the local Arctic communities are increased self-determination (especially self-government over resources), access to fish and means of production, respect for Indigenous knowledge, and better policy coherence between fish and food.19
Focusing on the potential future conflicts over marine resources, regional issue-specific multilateral cooperation has been a frequent solution. A notable example is the Joint Norwegian-Russian Fisheries Commission, which has been the main responsible for the Barents Sea management regime.20
Canada territorial sea and exclusive economic zone (EEZ)
Denmark territorial sea and EEZ
Iceland territorial sea and EEZ
Norway territorial sea and EEZ/ Fishery zone (Jan Mayen)/ Fishery protection zone (Svalbard)
Russia territorial sea and EEZ
Norway-Russia Special Area
USA territorial sea and EEZ
Overlapping Canada/USA EEZ
Russia-USA Eastern Special Area
Sea of Okhotsk
Bering Sea
Laptev Sea
Kara Sea
East Siberian Sea
North Pole
Chukchi Sea
Beaufort Sea
Barents Sea
Lincoln Sea
Greenland Sea
 North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Arctic. Link
Megan Bailey & Jamie Snook (2021). Warming-driven changes in Arctic fish communities must not leave local Indigenous communities out in the cold. One Earth. Link
Jen Evans &  Andreas Østhagen (2021). Fisheries Disputes: The Real Potential for Arctic Conflict. The Arctic Institute. Link
All in all, we can conclude that action in the Arctic region regarding commercial fishing has been mostly limited to bans and preventive measures to protect this area's resources and ecosystems. However, there is currently a lack of clear long-term vision for the potential benefits that commercial fishing might bring to the region and how it can be implemented in a safe and sustainable manner.

What type of research should be conducted? How can Arctic countries take advantage of their EEZs and international waters? How should Indigenous communities’ cultures and resources be preserved? What role will each Arctic state play in the development of this industry in the region? All these questions are presently being left unanswered and stakeholders urgently need to start looking behind prevention and using the measures in place to build a well-defined strategic plan for the future.
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Motion for a resolution
Submitted by:
Chiara Auer (AT), Isabelle Birkhäuser (CH), Oskar Bollmann (DE), Frederique Bots (NL), Mario Costache (RO), Maria Dianellaki (GR), Aleksandar Draganov (BG), Vítor Matos (PT), Aoife O’Sullivan (IE), Marina Pérez (ES), Eva Raknes (NO), Jozef Vogli (AL), Erin Warren (UK), Margarida Conceição (Chairperson, PT)
The European Youth Parliament aims to prioritise the preservation of the Arctic ecosystems, ensuring long-term economical and environmental stability. We aim to achieve this through promoting sustainable and efficient fishing practices, therefore avoiding further market bans and limitations. We aim to secure and increase international cooperation, through mutual accountability and transparency. We further aim to safeguard cultural heritage, ensuring that Indigenous fishing practices are respected and protected. Lastly, we aim to foster clear and precise regulations backed by reliable research,

A. Strongly emphasising that Arctic biodiversity is under pressure due to loss of habitat, changing migration patterns and other disturbances of the ecosystems, making the preservation of the Arctic ecosystems’ natural balance of the utmost importance,

B. Bearing in mind that the unsustainability and harmfulness of industrial fishing and aquaculture methods can damage the Central Arctic Ocean’s marine life and ecosystems,

C. Alarmed by the lack of scientific knowledge and research regarding the Central Arctic Ocean’s ecosystems resulting in difficulties in developing informed sustainable fishing measures,

D. Considering that growing international interest in fishing in the Arctic Ocean could lead to localised overfishing due to differing fishing capacities of Arctic States,

E. Taking into account that due to the insufficient financial support for research institutions there has been no significant development made towards innovative solutions regarding sustainable practices in maritime industries,

F. Profoundly concerned by the risk of large scale commercial fishing being damaging to traditional fishing practices of Indigenous Arctic communities,

G. Alarmed by a potential increase in geopolitical tensions between Arctic States with the Arctic Ocean becoming more attractive for fishing as a consequence of polar ice melting,

H. Pointing out that fisheries’ regulations do not effectively contribute to a sustainable market if Arctic States are not sufficiently held accountable for their implementation,

J. Regretting that the lack of sufficient control and monitoring in both EEZs and international waters is leading to a prevalent illegal fishing problem;

1. Invites the Arctic Council to implement Norway’s Traffic Light System1 in the Arctic’s international waters and expand it by including temporary fishing halts where necessary;

2. Further invites the Arctic Council to support the Arctic States in adapting to future environmental changes by preparing a biannual high level regulatory report with conclusions and recommendations on fishing management;

3. Calls upon Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG-MARE) and Horizon Europe to further financially support the education of local communities on sustainable fishing practices and Arctic biodiversity on a national and international level guaranteeing a widespread acceptance of accurate policies;

4. Invites the Arctic States to establish an independent scientific board responsible for:
a. monitoring the environmental status quo of each country’s EEZ,
b. providing relevant scientific information to responsible legislative entities;

5. Urges the Arctic States to implement stricter fishing regulations backed by scientific knowledge to ensure the sustainability of fishing practices and equipment;

6. Strongly encourages Arctic States to enact legislation that prohibits the practice of discarding unwanted fish;

7. Further encourages Arctic states to incentivize the disclosure of bycatch through percentage based remuneration;

8. Further invites the Arctic Council and DG-MARE to increase budgets for funding opportunities for independent organisations researching more sustainable and efficient fishing methods and aquaculture;

9. Further urges the Arctic States to create protected zones within their EEZs by 2028 for Indigenous communities to exercise their fishing rights;

10. Encourages Arctic States to promote dialogue with Indigenous communities focused on fostering a deeper understanding of their fishing culture through knowledge and culture exchange;

11. Urges Arctic States to cooperate with each other and other stakeholders to avoid emergent political tensions and potential deviations from the maximum sustainable yield2 principle;

12. Suggests the Arctic Council to establish a monitoring body with the purpose of:
a. performing routine audits on fishing practices ensuring equal and sufficient application of regulations,
b. holding Arctic States accountable through an agreed system of sanctions imposed by Arctic Council Member States.

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The process of updating allowed production capacity based on environmental status and indicators.
The maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for a given fish stock refers to the highest possible annual catch that can be sustained over time, while keeping the stock at the level producing maximum growth.
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