Dec. 4 (UPI) -- The United States and nine other nations agreed to a 16-year ban on commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean to give researchers time to study the area's ecology and the effects of climate change.
The agreement, which was reached after a meeting between the various countries' delegations late last month, establishes and operates a joint scientific research and monitoring program to understand the ecosystem of and determine whether fish stocks exist and could be sustainably harvested, according to a statement from the Chairman of the meeting between the 10 nations.
Joining the United States in the agreement were Russia, China, Denmark, Iceland, South Korea, Japan, Norway and the European Union.
The Arctic Ocean has not been a target for large scale commercial fishing. But as the ice melts and its waters become more open, that could change. And since the waters are international, fishing would be legal and unregulated, which some researchers, environmental groups, and policymakers fear could cause vast damage to the area's ecosystem, Science Magazine reported.
The international agreement to ban fishing prevents that from happening.
"For the first time, nations are committing to scientific research in a high seas area before commercial fishing begins," said Scott Highleyman, the vice-president of conservation policy and programs at Ocean Conservancy and a the U.S. delegate involved in the agreement's negotiation. "This precautionary action recognizes both the pace of change in the Arctic due to climate change as well as the tradition of Arctic cooperation across international boundaries."
According to Alaska Public Radio, the ban will be in place for the next 16 years and automatically renewed every five years unless one of the signatory countries objects.