Using a Precautionary Approach to Manage North Pacific Fisheries Under Uncertainty
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is authorized to manage the fisheries within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the State of Alaska, which includes the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The Council has adopted a precautionary approach to commercial fishing opportunities that may arise as a result of climate change in the Arctic, including prohibiting certain activities until the best science becomes available. The Council has established limits to minimize bycatch, seasonal restrictions, and gear requirements (e.g., prohibition of bottom trawling) to diminish effects on mammals, birds, and habitat. The Council has also created some protected areas to protect sensitive habitats (e.g., deep sea corals) and areas where scientific information is limited (e.g., Chukchi and Beaufort Seas).
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is one of the eight regional councils that oversee fisheries management in the United States in conjunction with the National Marine Fisheries Service. Members include representatives from state and federal fisheries agencies, commercial and recreational industries, communities, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, and the U.S. Department of State. The Council has jurisdiction over the 900,000 square mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the State of Alaska, which includes the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The Council manages Pacific cod, pollock, flatfish, mackerel, sablefish, and rockfish on its own and jointly manages salmon, crab, and scallops with the State of Alaska. In addition, the Council works with the International Pacific Halibut Commission to allocate halibut landings for the United States and Canada.
In February 2009, the Council adopted the Arctic Fishery Management Plan which was approved by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in August 2009 and made effective in December 2009. The plan closes the Arctic waters within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Alaska to all commercial fishing activity until sufficient scientific research is conducted to determine the potential effects of expanded fishing activity in the region. The plan has received support from the U.S. fishing industry, managers, conservation practitioners and groups, and community leaders. In addition, the Council prohibited bottom trawling over nearly 673,000 square miles within its jurisdiction in order to protect habitat.
Outcomes and Conclusions
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has used a precautionary and collaborative approach to deal with the uncertainty surrounding the effects of climate change on the Arctic environment and possible commercial fishing development. This approach could act as a model for other groups looking to address large-scale effects of global climate change. For example, the United States, along with the other four Arctic countries—Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia—signed a joint declaration in July 2015 to prevent high seas fishing in the central Arctic Ocean until science-based management mechanisms are in place.
Gregg, R.M. (2020). Using a Precautionary Approach to Manage North Pacific Fisheries Under Uncertainty [Case study on a project of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. (Last updated June 2020)