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Posted: No Industrial Fishing in U.S. Arctic Waters

February 6, 2009

Seattle, WA – Nearly 200,000 square miles of U.S. Arctic waters north of Alaska have been put off-limits to industrial fishing. Yesterday's vote by the North Pacific Fisheries Council in Seattle posts a "no fishing" sign on the largest body of water ever to be closed.

Environmentalists say Arctic waters are warming twice as quickly as the rest of the planet, and the closure is needed to give scientists time to determine how climate change is impacting fish and other marine life.

Marilyn Heinman, with the Pew Environment Group, says various species of fish are moving to the warmer northern waters and science needs time to determine the effect on the ecosystem.

"As those fish move northward, as the ice melts, we need this closure. It ensures there is no fishing until science can prove that it can be done sustainably."

Much of the Arctic food web relies on only a handful of species, says Heinman, such as Arctic cod. That makes it critical to protect them from potential threats like over-fishing.

"The species up there; polar bear, walrus, seals are really facing some serious declines because of the lack of ice. And, with that happening at the same time, it’s important no increased development take place without a science-based precautionary approach."

Arni Thomspon, with the Alaska Crab Coalition in Seattle, says the industry backs the precautionary ban, saying it is sensible to delay large-scale fishing until scientific surveys have been completed.

"It’s a good long-term business plan: good for the environment, the marine resources, and the local indigenous population. You can’t just run roughshod over the native peoples up there."

Supporters believe the closing sets a valuable precedent for other countries that border the Arctic Ocean.

The ban only applies to very large fishing operations and does not impact local fishing within three miles of the coastline.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - WA