Feds open comment on Arctic fisheries proposal

A federal agency says it will open a public comment period on a proposal to prohibit commercial fishing in Arctic waters in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted the plan in February. That plan is now open for public review. It still needs the final approval of the Secretary of Commerce.

The plan has been hailed by environmentalists and industry representatives alike, who say summertime melting of sea ice has increased interest in commercial fishing in the Arctic.

The plan would prohibit industrial fishing in nearly 200,000 square miles of U.S. waters in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas until researchers can gather sufficient information on fish and the Arctic marine environment. It identifies Arctic cod, saffron cod and snow crab as species that likely would be targeted by commercial fishermen.

“This is a precautionary approach that has the United States saying to the world we are very concerned about what is going on in the Arctic,” Jim Ayers, vice president of Oceana, said Tuesday.

Ayers said the plan sends the message that the United States is going to suspend industrial fishing activities until it understands more about the warming of the Arctic and ocean acidification. He hopes the message gets across not only to other countries but also to certain industries looking to do business in the Arctic.

“Oil and gas is foremost on our minds these days,” he said. “We’ve been saying stop and look at what is going on in the Arctic. We are hoping the oil industry catches on to this approach.”

Chris Krenz, Oceana’s Arctic project manager, said the plan has broad-based support.

“This is a big opportunity for the rest of the public to weigh in and help push this forward,” he said.

Mary Pemberton, Forbes, 27 May 2009. Article.

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