Monday April 17, 2023

High Country News

The high seas — the ocean waters that begin 230 miles offshore — cover 43% of the planet’s surface and are home to as many as 10 million species, yet remain one of the least understood places on Earth. Among the region’s many mysteries are how Pacific salmon, one of the West’s most beloved and economically important fish, spend the majority of their lives — and why many populations are plummeting. Combined with how little we know about what climate change is doing out there, such questions make the area an international research and conservation priority. 

These sprawling waters, though, are a mostly lawless zone, beyond the reaches of any national authority and governable only by international consensus and treaties. They face tremendous challenges that no nation can address alone: Climate change is causing marine heat waves and acidification, while overfishing and pollution are crippling ecosystems, even as pressure grows from companies and nations eager to drill and mine the ocean depths. In early March, negotiators representing nearly 200 nations came to a historic agreement aimed at protecting the ocean’s creatures and ecosystems. When the new United Nations High Seas Treaty was announced, marine scientists and conservationists around the globe rejoiced.

But what will the treaty actually mean for conservation in a region about which humanity knows less than the moon? When it comes to Pacific salmon, will the new treaty’s tools — and the international symbolism and momentum involved in agreeing to them — aid efforts to manage and protect them? Do the provisions go far enough? Here’s what the experts say.

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