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MSC North Atlantic Program Director, Gisli Gislason, explains what the Arctic Circle Assembly is and why the MSC hosted a seminar on overfishing in the North-East Atlantic.

Since 2015 the combined catch of North-East Atlantic Mackerel, blue whiting and herring have exceeded sustainable levels by 34% or 4.8 million tonnes. We wanted to use this platform to influence governments to urgently find solutions. After all, it is the failure of some of the richest nations in the world to agree to limit catch quotas that has caused this crisis. As a result of inaction, every year these three fish species are fished above scientific advice set by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). 

The situation has resulted in the suspension of MSC certificates for these stocks in 2019. The continuous overshooting of scientific advice is threatening the long-term sustainability of these stocks. These shared natural resources are being fished according to quotas that are set unilaterally by individual nations and which, when combined, consistently exceed scientifically advised catch limits.

We are calling on the governments of the North-East Atlantic to reach a shared agreement for managing these important stocks. This agreement must be in line with new scientific advice on 2022 catch levels released by ICES on 30th September, 2021. Otherwise, there could be devastating consequences for these iconic species, local ocean biodiversity and the fishing communities that depend on them.

What is the Arctic Circle Assembly?

The Arctic Circle Assembly is the largest annual international gathering on the Arctic, attended by more than 2,000 participants from over 60 countries. The Assembly is held every October in Reykjavik, Iceland. 

The assembly is convened by the Arctic Circle, an organisation — set up former president of Iceland, Olafus Ragnar Grimsson, and former Premier of Greenland, Kuupik Kleist — to encourage dialogue and solutions among politicians, business leaders and scientists to address issues facing the Arctic as a result of climate change and melting sea ice.

High profile and influential politicians have attended in the past, including US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, former French President Francoise Holland, former Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

What other subjects were discussed at the Assembly?

The growing geopolitical importance of the Arctic region has increased the scope of the assembly. Discussions and seminars dealt not only with climate change, but access to energy and scarce mineral resources as well as trading and shipping routes opening up across the melting Arctic Sea. 

Discussions this year included maintaining peace and security in the region, China’s plans for a Polar Silk Road as well as the role of renewable energies in the Arctic. There were also discussions about the link between medical and biotech and natural resources in the region as well as prevention of nuclear and radiological incidents in the Arctic seas and building food security resilience.

MSC Arctic Circle Assembly Seminar -program and fact sheet
Date of issue: 14 October 2021
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