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Oceans and fisheries
News announcement20 September 2019Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Largest polar expedition ever will map climate and marine ecosystems in central Arctic ocean

Today, the Polarstern icebreaker will embark on a year-round expedition to study climate change in the Arctic. On board is a team of scientists, supported by the EU, who will conduct pioneering research on the marine ecosystems of the central Arctic ocean. The results of their expedition will improve our understanding of these ecosystems and help us determine whether fish stocks might exist in this area that could be harvested on a sustainable basis.

The MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate) expedition is the largest polar expedition to date. The backbone of the expedition is the German research vessel Polarstern, which will spend a year drifting through the central Arctic ocean while attached to an ice floe. Hundreds of researchers from 19 countries will visit the Polarstern during this year to conduct research and gather data to gain a better understanding of global climate change.

Among them are scientists from the EU-funded consortium European Fisheries Inventory in the Central Arctic ocean (EFICA). This international consortium will map marine ecosystems in the area. Little scientific data exists on this subject, particularly from wintertime.

The work of the scientists will support the implementation of an international agreement to prevent unregulated high seas fisheries in the central Arctic ocean. This agreement takes a precautionary approach to potential medium or long-term fishing opportunities in the area. No fisheries can take place, until scientific evidence exists that it can be done sustainably. Building scientific knowledge on marine ecosystems in the central Arctic, including which marine living resources exist in it, is therefore a logical first step.

The EU is one of the first parties to the agreement to set up such a research expedition.


The Arctic region is warming at more than twice the global average rate, causing changes in the size and distribution of fish populations. The high seas portion of the central Arctic ocean may become more attractive for commercial fisheries in the medium to long term. However, until present, most of those high seas were not covered by any international conservation and management regime. Meanwhile there is still a very limited understanding of the Arctic marine ecosystems and, in particular, of whether fish stocks might exist in this area that could be commercially important and harvested on a sustainable basis.

Last year, the European Union and nine countries (Canada, the People's Republic of China, the Kingdom of Denmark (in respect of Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Iceland, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United States) signed the Agreement to prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. This agreement is a first step towards the possible creation of one or more regional fisheries management organisations or arrangements for the CAO, to ensure that any future fishing is carried out sustainably. Before such a decision can be made, however, the agreement envisages the establishment of a joint program of scientific research and monitoring to improve parties’ understanding of the marine ecosystems of the CAO. This joint programme will be discussed extensively during an upcoming scientific meeting in February 2020 that the EU will organise and host.

Even though the new agreement has not yet entered into force, parties have agreed to already start working on its implementation, in particular the joint program. So far, the EU, the Russian Federation, Canada, Japan and the United States have ratified the agreement. It will enter into force when the other five signatories have done so as well.


Publication date
20 September 2019
Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries