The Arctic oceans and seas host a rich and diverse marine and freshwater fish species, with around 150 species of fish in the Barents, White and Kara Seas comprised of large numbers of cod, herring, capelin, and salmon. There are as many species in the Bering and Chukchi system, which also includes the heavily exploited pollock. In fact the Barents and the Bering systems are two of the most commercially productive fisheries in the world. The Bering Sea accounting for 2 to 5 per cent of the world’s fishery catches. Economically, the Arctic fisheries supply a significant part of the world’s fish supply. The Bering Sea fisheries alone comprise half the United States catches. But there are growing pressures to the Arctic fisheries, according to the recently released United Nations Environment programme (UNEP)s Global Environment Outlook report, called the GEO3.

Over fishing is a serious problem. Since the 1950s, there have been some spectacular crashes of populations of commercially important species such as the cod and Atlantic salmon off the coasts of Canada and Greenland and herring in the Norwegian and Icelandic waters. Strict conservation measures including no-catch zones were put in place. However, even with those measures, some recovery has been slow and not a certainty. Other populations such as the haddock stocks in the waters between northern Norway and Svalbard have seen a gradual but steady decline. The Icelandic fishing ban on Atlantic herring between 1972 and 1975 made a difference, with stocks gradually recovering and now considered to be within safe biological limits.

The declining stocks put pressure on the Arctic indigenous people who often depend on fish catches. Climate changes may also threaten species by reducing ice habitats.

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