WASHINGTON (CN) – In waters believed to be extraordinarily abundant in natural resources, the historic deal among five nations that touch on the Arctic Ocean is considered a pre-emptive strike against overfishing as the polar ice cap disappears.
The U.S. staked a claim of its own in that race Tuesday, ratifying an agreement that the State Department says will regulate fishing in the region no longer preserved from industry exploit.
The so-called Arctic Five, a group that also includes Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway, first signed the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean last October in Greenland. Its key principles vow to prevent overfishing, while still facilitating scientific research and monitoring.
In waters believed to be extraordinarily abundant in natural resources, the historic deal was widely considered a much-needed pre-emptive strike against overfishing.
The initial agreement was also supported by Japan, South Korea, Iceland, China and the E.U. But the United States’ decision to formally ratify the agreement Tuesday ostensibly makes red tape on Arctic fishing one step closer to becoming reality.
“This agreement is the first multilateral agreement of its kind to take a legally-binding precautionary approach to protect an area from commercial fishing before that fishing has begun,” the State Department said Tuesday.
Before Tuesday, only Russia, Canada and the EU formally ratified the agreement. All 10 nations that met in Greenland must ratify before the contract can be fully enforced.
Up for regulation are some 2.8 million square kilometers of waters roughly 200 nautical miles from land. The area is equivalent in size to the Mediterranean Sea, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
According to the agreement, within two years of being fully enforced, participating nations must develop a joint program that both studies the local ecosystem and determines whether fish stocks in the area can be sustainably farmed, either at that point or in the future.
It is intended only to last 16 years, at which the agreement will be automatically extended every five years unless there is an objection by a participating nation or until official fishery quotas are established.
Fish stocks are not the only draw for nations interested in carving out rules for a mostly uncharted market. The Arctic Circle, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, is home to an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil and 1.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, accounting for approximately 13% of the entire planet’s energy reserves.
Final ratification on the overfishing agreement may prompt some questions about the U.S. finally ratifying another deal: the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Most nations in the world are privy to the agreement governing what countries can and cannot do with the ocean’s natural resources. The U.S. has yet to ratify the treaty, historically citing concerns over American sovereignty and freedom to explore development opportunities beyond the continental shelf.
The 1982 treaty has slowed development in the Arctic for now, but the decades-old agreement will likely receive renewed attention as tensions continue to tick upward in the region.
In May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo chastised China for its attempts to claim control over Arctic shipping lanes.
“Beijing claims to be a near-Arctic state,” Pompeo said. “Yet the shortest distance between China and the Arctic is 900 miles. There are Arctic states, and non-Arctic states. No third category exists. China claiming otherwise entitles them to exactly nothing.”