Three representatives of IASC attended multiple Expert Group and the Plenary meeting of the Protection of the Marine Environment Working Group of the Arctic Council, which were preparatory efforts for the Arctic Science Ministerial meeting to be held in May 2021. IASC is an official observer to the Arctic Council and the attendance of IASC was under that context. Among the primary business items of the meetings included provision of progress reports on Arctic Council projects under the umbrella of PAME. In particular, progress was reported on the framework for a pan-Arctic network of marine protected areas, and the development of “fact sheets” or Information Briefs on Marine Protected Areas in a Changing Arctic and Indigenous Food Security in the Arctic—implications of a Changing Arctic. A Third International Science and Policy Conference is being planned on Implementation of the Ecosystem Approach to Management in the Arctic. A progress report was also provided on the Integrated Ecosystem Assessment of the Central Arctic Ocean, which is coordinating with the International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES) meetings of the scientific experts on fish stocks in the central Arctic Ocean, and other relevant activities. Progress was also reported on a Regional Action Plan on Litter in the Arctic. Several new project proposals were reported under REDEG that signal increased efforts at outreach and communication to both regional communities and the broader world, including updating of Arctic marine oil and gas (O&G) activity guidelines (not updated since 2009), research into underwater noise from O&G activities, and investigation of coastal mining impacts. Follow-up with the Shipping group re: synergetic research on underwater noise and with CAFF re: coastal mining impacts is to be undertaken. Reports were also heard on outcomes from the Senior Arctic Officials meeting in November 2020 and a report from the “Group of Interested Parties on developing Guidance to Address Issues Related to the Implementation of the Cape Town Agreement (CTA) for Fishing Vessel Safety.” A related project is as updated development of the Arctic Offshore Resource Exploration and Development framework.
In preparation for the Arctic Science Ministerial meeting, six focus areas were identified for the PAME Work Plan that will be put forward for approval by the Arctic Council: 1) Framework for a Pan-Arctic Network of MPAs; 2) Protection from Invasive Species; 3) Arctic Marine Shipping; 4) Arctic Offshore Resource Exploration and Development; 5) Ecosystem Approach to Management; 6) Marine Litter.
Finally, an updated Arctic Marine Strategic Plan is being prepared for overall approval by the Arctic Council to guide all working groups. IASC representatives requested the opportunity to contribute to the updating of the Strategic Plan prior to the Arctic Science Ministerial and the PAME Secretariat noted our request.