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International relations

International research planned to manage Arctic fish stocks

Joint efforts raise hopes for cooperation among US, Russia and China

Global warming has rendered the Arctic more accessible to fishing vessels, making rule-setting imperative.    © Kyodo

TOKYO -- The U.S., China, Japan and Russia are among the countries planning to conduct joint research in the Arctic Ocean in a step toward preventing overfishing in the region, Nikkei has learned.

Representatives from nine countries and the European Union aim to meet in South Korea early next year to discuss exploratory fishing based on similar treaties covering other regions. Starting out with rules on exploratory fishing as early as 2022, the group intends to gradually expand the scope to ensure sustainable fishing.

Their efforts are based on an international agreement to ban unregulated fishing in the Arctic that went into force in June.

That the U.S., China and Russia -- the three most influential players in the region -- have all signed on to the arrangement has raised hopes for international cooperation in other projects in the Arctic. Global warming has reduced ice coverage in the Arctic region by as much as 40% since the last century. As potential fishing grounds expand, it has become imperative to spell out rules to prevent unchecked fishing.

The joint research aims to track the types of fish in the Arctic and catch levels through exploratory fishing and share data. If a fish stock is deemed sufficient, members will discuss a framework to allow commercial fishing within limits.

The members, which also include Canada, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and South Korea, will discuss setting up a body to manage resources to enable monitoring for unchecked fishing and settle fishing disputes. The goal is to establish those international rules by 2023-2024. 

The Arctic lacks global rules like the Antarctic Treaty. Countries are vying to tap its rich resources, including oil, natural gas and rare earths.

China issued its first white paper on Arctic policy in 2018, unveiling plans to develop a sea lane dubbed the "Ice Silk Road." Under a five-year plan, China also signaled its intention to intensify resources development. China is already planning a rare-earth mining project in Greenland, a move that has prompted local backlash.

Russia, which has the largest territory within the Arctic, launched a liquefied natural gas project in the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia in 2017. To open up more sea lanes, it is building large-scale icebreakers as well. Russia's massive Arctic military drills in the spring raised alarm among U.S. officials.

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