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South Korea has ratified an international moratorium on commercial fishing on the High Arctic, the Foreign Ministry in Seoul said on Wednesday. “The new agreement highlights the special responsibilities and interests of Norway and other coastal states, contributes to the implementation of Arctic law of the sea, and clarifies the rights and obligations of coastal states and nations and long-distance fishing organizations in the region,” said Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide. This agreement provides a framework for Canada and other parties: in accordance with the Sunset clause of section 13, paragraph 1 of the CAOFA, CAOFA (and thus the “moratorium”) remains in force for 16 years. Subsequently, it is automatically renewed for a period of five years, unless one (!) of the parties objects (Article 13, paragraph 2, of the CAOFA). Similarly, the CAOFA will only come into force once all A5-5 parts have become contracting (Article 11, paragraph 1). This compromise solution (unlike a permanent ban) is reminiscent of the Ross Sea Marine Reserve, established by CCAMLR in Antarctic waters, which came into force last year and also has a Sunset clause (35 years subject to renewal or consensus). However, the interim measures adopted under the OAC are part of a “progressive process” that could lead to the creation of one or more future ORPs/ASs within the OAC. This is not unheard of and has been used, for example, in the framework of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Organization (ORGA). But before the next step, scientific uncertainty about fish stocks in the CAD must be reduced – a goal for which a strong joint scientific research and monitoring programme (JPSRM) is being put in place (Article 4).

If the parties believe, based on data from JPSRM and other sources, that “the distribution, migration and frequency of fish in the area of the agreement would allow for sustainable commercial fishing”, they may open negotiations for a new ORGP/A [Article 5, paragraph 1, paragraph c) (i) ]. This decision, like all key decisions taken under the CAOFA, must be taken by mutual agreement (Article 6, paragraph 2). Thus, only one party can block the trigger mechanism (just as a single party can block the adoption of other conservation measures), which is an expression of a careful balance of competing interests involved in the CAOFA negotiations.

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