US Admits North Pole Fishing ‘Unlikely To Occur,’ Bans It Anyways

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The U.S. has signed an agreement with four other countries bordering the Arctic to ban commercial fishing in the North Pole until more is known about the region’s natural resources and ecosystems.

The Department of State says it’s taking a “precautionary approach to prevent unregulated fishing” in the North Pole. The government, however, admits it’s going to ban commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean even though it’s “is unlikely to occur in the near future.”

Despite this admission, the Obama administration has gone ahead and signed an agreement with Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia to prevent “unregulated” commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean. The agreement says countries will only allow commercial fishing vessels in the region when “one or more international mechanisms are in place to manage any such fishing in accordance with recognized international standards.”

“[The countries] also intend to establish a joint program of scientific research with the aim of improving understanding of the ecosystems of this area,” according to the State Department. Obama administration officials say this agreement builds on a 2009 U.S. decision to ban commercial fishing north of the Bering Strait “until better scientific information to support sound fisheries management is available.”

The five nation agreement comes amid news reports that Russia is increasing its military and economic presence in the Arctic. President Vladimir Putin is making an effort to claim large portions of the Arctic as under Russian influence and control — beefing up military operations in the area.

U.S. national security officials have expressed concerns that Russia is pushing ahead with its Arctic plans while the Obama administration sits by and watches. Indeed, Secretary of State John Kerry’s actions suggest he believes global warming’s impact on the Arctic is a bigger concern for the U.S. in the region than Russian aggression.

“We’re not even in the same league as Russia right now,” Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft told Newsweek. “We’re not playing in this game at all.”

In terms of Arctic vessels, Newsweek reports the U.S. seriously lags behind Russia. The newspaper reports “[t]he U.S. has only two [icebreaking vessels] both old and ‘there’s no money for new icebreakers.'” Icebreakers take years to build and are costly to operate. Russia has 27 of them and China, which isn’t even an Arctic nation, will have two by next year.

“Our nation has two ocean-going icebreakers. … We’re the most prosperous nation on Earth,” Zukunft said. “Our GDP is eight times that of Russia. Russia has 27 ocean-going icebreakers.”

Russia’s energy companies are also aggressively exploring the region for oil and natural gas resources. In the U.S., Royal Dutch Shell is the only company with a rig heading to the North Pole, but even that has been hampered by environmental protests and foot-dragging by the Obama administration.

“We’re experiencing a reawakening of the strategic importance of the Arctic,” said Navy Adm. William Gortney. “Is this a second Cold War? It doesn’t matter what we think. Maybe they think the Cold War never ended.”

Ice coverage is projected to continue to decline in the coming years, meaning shipping lanes and natural resources will become more accessible. Greenlanders are looking forward to taking advantage of increased access to minerals that can be mined, and global shipping companies hope sea lanes in the “Northwest Passage” will allow for new shipping routes.

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