Where Ice Melts, a Treaty Emerges

Once covered in meters-thick sea ice, the Central Arctic Ocean—an area the size of the Mediterranean at the top of our planet—is opening up for the first time in human history as climate change warms the Arctic. Categorized as “high seas” over which no country has jurisdiction, the Central Arctic Ocean is a recent center of international Arctic negotiations and policy implementation. In this space, several SEARCH collaborators have offered their expertise. David Balton, who helped co-design SEARCH’s current iteration, chaired the negotiations that produced the Central Arctic Ocean Fisheries Agreement (CAOFA), the international treaty that governs the Central Arctic Ocean’s 2.8 million km2 of high seas. Having entered into force in 2021, the CAOFA is a landmark treaty that attempts to preemptively limit the ecological damage that unregulated future Arctic fishing could cause. Betsy Baker, a Global Fellow with the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute and a member of SEARCH’s International Cooperation & Economic Decision-Making (IC-ED) co-production team, proposed a design for the CAOFA’s science body to support Indigenous knowledge holders working together with scientists, as the treaty envisions. Evan Bloom, Senior Fellow at the Wilson Center and co-chair of the IC-ED team, has highlighted the treaty’s significance and positive contribution amidst global tensions. And Alex Shahbazi, SEARCH’s Research & Program Management Fellow, developed recommendations and best practices for the CAOFA’s implementation. With the treaty’s implementation still in its infancy, expect the Central Arctic Ocean to continue as a meeting ground for nations and minds in the ever-changing Arctic environment.