Zou Leilei

Zou Leilei

Associated Professor, Shanghai Ocean University, China

Visiting at: Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Norway
Period: 1 month
Research Theme: Non-Arctic States' contribution to the Arctic Ocean legal order-making for living resource management

Associate professor ZOU Leilei from Shanghai Ocean University, was granted the fellowship to conduct a one-month academic visit at Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo, Norway from January to February, 2017. Based on the communications and interviews with scholars and institutions in terms of Norway’s Arctic policies on marine living resources and the Arctic cooperation of Norway.

Zou Leilei has provided some research findings, with below an excerpt of her research report.

Implications of the Central Bering Sea Pollock Resources Conservation to the Central Arctic Ocean Fisheries Management

40% of the Central Arctic Ocean (CAO) was the open waters in 2012 and the Arctic will be free of summer sea ice by 2050 owning to the climate change, which gives rise to emerging fisheries in CAO. The five coastal states of Arctic Ocean, including Canada, U.S.A, the Russian Federation, Norway, and Denmark in respect of Greenland (A5) released The Declaration Concerning Prevention of Unregulated High Seas Fishing in at Arctic fisheries meeting in 2015. However, the procedures involving the construction of CAO fisheries management regime go beyond the universally accepted legal framework. For example, the interim measures are internally agreed upon among coastal states, fishing moratorium as the interim measures applies to CAO where there are so far no commercial fisheries, and interim measures are so far only binding on coastal states. Therefore, important distant-water fishing states try to figure out the intention behind their Declaration and challenging the rationale of their proposed interim measures to prevent unregulated high seas fishing. There are similarities in some important issues concerning CBS Pollock Resources Conservation (CBS) and CAO fisheries management, so this paper tries to explore how over-20-years’ experience in CBS pollock resources restoration will shed some light on CAO fisheries management.

1. CBS Pollock Resources Conservation

Bering Sea has an extensive water coverage for about 2.27 million square kilometers, most of which falls under the jurisdiction of coastal states, only 8% located at the central part as high seas. The Central Bering Sea is the high seas of Bering Sea. Two coastal states, together with distant-water fishing states of Japan, Korea, Poland and China, used to conduct pollock fishing at Bering Sea. With UNCLOS concluded in 1982, the concept of “freedom of the seas” was replaced. Coastal states were entitled to claim for jurisdiction over EEZs, and distant-water fishing states had to shift to CBS for pollock fishing. There was also an abundance of pollock resources at CBS, while the pollock stocks were almost exhausted with 10 years of overfishing.

A meeting was initiated between USA and USSR in April 1988 and they proposed the establishment of some management regime to define Total Allowable Catch and coordinate scientific research and investigation into pollock resources at Bering Sea. They gathered 6 stakeholders (2 coastal states plus 4 distant-water fishing states) to attend the meetings but the meetings turned out to be a failure in that 4 distant-water fishing states objected unanimously to coastal states’ proposals. The first reason is that they thought that the coastal states’ proposal deprived them of their fishing rights and interests at the high seas. Secondly, they thought it was not a fair game if they refrained from fishing at CBS while coastal states kept fishing at their own EEZs. The pollock harvest in 1992 voiced the complete stock collapse, which made all states find it urgent and compulsive to create a more permanent management regime on a multilateral cooperation basis. Finally in 1994 came the conclusion of The Convention on the Conservation and Management of Pollock Resources in the Central Bering Sea (CBS Pollock Convention). The convention was ratified by 6 states and took in force in December 1995. With the convention provisions, no pollock fishing will take place unless there is indication from scientific data that the stock is restored to the level that will permit the maximum sustainable yield.

2. Fisheries and Fisheries Management at CAO

2.1 A Contrastive Study

There are some comparability between CBS pollock conservation and CAO fisheries management. Both of them involve fisheries management at high seas and potential conflicts between coastal states and distant-water fishing states. There is an absence of competent RFMOs, who are capable of making management measures and coordinating among conflicting stakeholders. In both cases, the coastal states are acting as a leading role in establishing management regime, then distant-water fishing states to be invited to the negotiation table where coastal states’ proposal is to be sold.

However, there are also differences between two cases. CAO covers vaster waters than CBS. CBS Pollock Convention is the remedy to restore the collapsed stock, while CAO interim measures are precautionary approach for fisheries that haven’t occurred yet. CBS conservation measures are devoted to pollock, while CAO fisheries management attends to a puzzle where composition, quantity, and distribution of fish stocks remain unclear. CBS Pollock Convention involves 6 stakeholders while CAO fisheries management, A5 are acting as the steward, 5 important potential distant-water fishing entities are “passive” participants who are expected to give a nod for A5’s management proposal. Although distant water fishing states played a key role in the process of negotiation, they are not having much say before they are invited to be present at A5 Arctic fisheries meetings. It seems that CAO may encounter more potential conflicts in its fisheries management.

2.2 Implications

The application of precautionary approach is important in fisheries management. Since precautionary approach is applied when scientific information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate, data collection and research programs should be developed to enhance the understanding of the situation for better approaches later. However, with the climate change, there is great dynamics for CAO fisheries, and it is more sensible that A5 coordinate with other non-Arctic states to conduct extensive scientific investigations and research into CAO fisheries and put forward more sensible management measures when we have a better updated knowledge of CAO fisheries.

International cooperation can be well facilitated by the good relationship between coastal states and distant-fishing states in high seas fisheries management. Coastal states proposed fishing moratorium at CAO while fishing operations continued at most EEZs, which mismatches the EEZs-high seas compatibility principle advocated by FSA and makes distant-water fishing states find it an unfair game when coastal states’ EEZ privileges are sustained and distant-water fishing states’ high seas fishing freedom rights are denied. Fve entities are deprived of the chance to be involved in negotiating the interim measures while they are provided with the chance to give a nod for the interim measures and comply with them. The way the international cooperation is conducted by A5 is not the typical way the international cooperation should be conducted in the light of UNCLOS and FSA.

RFMO is the appropriate platform capable of facilitating international cooperation and establishing management measures. RFMO has some advantages in coordinating high seas fisheries management. Parties to RFMO are entitled to equal rights and duties in fisheries management, facilitating the implementation of management measures. However, the procedure involving the establishment of interim measures at CAO doesn’t seem to be in compliance with the procedure advocated in FSA. Five entities invited to attend the enlarged meeting of Arctic fisheries haven’t been invited to participate in the establishment of interim measures. Currently A5 deny the need to establish RFMO for CAO. There is no indication that more states who are interested in CAO fisheries will be invited to attend the Arctic fisheries meetings. There is still a long way to go before every state has an equal voice for CAO fisheries management.

Priority should go to the dynamics of fisheries management. CBS Pollock Convention provides that decisions should be made by consensus at the annual conference among parties concerning allowable harvest level, individual national quota, conservation and management measures, observer program, boarding and inspecting, etc. Considering the fragile ecosystem at CAO, fishing moratorium as the interim measures can be interpreted as a good attempt for precautionary approach, while it should not serve as the excuse to keep non-Arctic states away from CAO in the name of environmental protection. Instead, it is more sensible to establish the RFMO where more extensive research and investigations involving more stakeholders can be coordinated and conducted to keep us informed of the latest development of fisheries status at CAO.

A good knowledge of fish stocks is of importance to the establishment of management measures. Overfishing led to pollock collapse at CBS, while the lack of the knowledge of pollock stocks sped up the collapse.

3. Conclusion

There are lessons and implications that we can learn from CBS pollock resources conservation. It turns out that we have to pay a much bigger price if the remedy is made after the damage is done to the ecosystem health. Without sufficient data about CAO fish stocks, precautionary approach is the best option for CAO. However, CAO calls for the timely establishment of RFMO since RFMO provides all stakeholders with the equal chance to get involved in fisheries management and RFMO is capable of coordinating among stakeholders, establishing sensible and updated management measures, and monitoring the implementation of management measures. With the sustainable fisheries as the common ultimate aim, coastal states and distant-water fishing states should have regular dialogues and face up to fisheries challenges in a cooperative manner. CBS pollock conservation measures are to restore the collapsed stocks, while CAO fisheries management is to attend to the emerging fisheries. Both of them call for the dynamic management in the light of latest scientific fisheries data.

With more extensive waters, more varieties of fish stocks, and more stakeholders of different interests, CAO fisheries management will encounter more challenges. CBS pollock resources conservation has some implications to CAO fisheries management. The increasingly sophisticated fisheries international legal instruments not only provide the management framework that we can adhere to, but provide the concrete guidelines in operation and implementation of management measures. With international cooperation as the principle and sustainability as the aim, the challenges that CAO fisheries management will encounter will hopefully melt away as the sea ice melts away.