Rising temperatures and shifting sea ice conditions have exposed fresh waters outside of commercial fishing zones for the nations that circle the Arctic Ocean. Scientists say more than 2.8 million square kilometers could be ice-free during summer months in the next 10 to 15 years.

Migrating fish stocks and the access to the waters in this area may attract the development of commercial fisheries. Two thousand scientists from 67 countries have signed a letter advocating the development of an agreement to protect the waters of the central Arctic Ocean during the International Polar Year 2012 scientific conference in Montreal.

The letter states “The science community currently does not have sufficient biological information to understand the presence, abundance, structure, movements, and health of fish stocks and the role they play in the broader ecosystem of the central Arctic Ocean.” Because of this fact, scientists are calling for a moratorium to have time to evaluate the impacts of fisheries on the central Arctic ecosystem before commercial fishing in the region becomes available. Species potentially affected include seals, whales and polar bears, among others.

The United States has taken a precautionary approach to open commercial fishing waters in the Arctic before. In 2009, it banned fishing in the waters north of the Bering Strait, including the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. Canada also has its own fisheries policies for the adjacent Beaufort Sea.

Photo: Kathryn Hansen/NASA

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