The central Arctic Ocean is one of the few regions of the world without a commercial fishing industry. This situation will remain unchanged for the next 15 years, for in October 2018, the five nations with Arctic coastlines reached an agreement with Iceland, China, Japan, South Korea and the European Union to ban high seas fisheries in the international waters of the central Arctic.
The Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean (CAOF Agreement) protects an area roughly the size of the Mediterranean Sea from commercial fishing for an initial period of 16 years and includes the option of automatic extension every five years.
The signatory states thus aim to give the international scientific community sufficient time to study the region, covering 2.8 million square kilometres, to assess its fish stocks and to develop sustainable management strategies. Until recently, permanent ice cover on the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean made fishing in those waters impossible, and very little fisheries research was conducted. For that reason, little is known about the local fish populations: their size, their migration routes, habitats and predator-prey relationships. The same applies to the polar cod, which has already been heavily fished along the southern margins of its natural range.
The agreement on a fishing ban in the central Arctic Ocean was motivated primarily by the retreat of the sea ice, caused by climate change, which has led to an increase in human activity in the Arctic Ocean. Today, as much as 40 per cent of the central Arctic Ocean is ice-free in summer. This has opened up the area to shipping, and interest in fishing in the Arctic has increased.