The definition of the Arctic with respect to marine fisheries is generally not limited to Arctic waters proper, but also comprises Subarctic and cold temperate waters lying immediately to the south of the Arctic. The main reason for this is that, due to an unusually efficient nutrient renewal through vertical mixing in spring and autumn, the border between these two areas is particularly rich in primary and secondary production, that is, microscopic algae and zooplankton, which together form the basis for the well-being and size of numerous stocks of fish and invertebrates, as well as sea mammals and birds. Furthermore, Arctic fodder fish like capelin and polar cod feed in cold water in their adult phase. As they return to Subarctic regions, these species transfer enormous energy to more southern areas as they fall prey to cod and numerous other demersal species and semipelagics like saithe.
The areas considered in this essay comprise the Barents and White Seas, the northern Norwegian Sea, Icelandic waters and the Iceland Sea, Greenlandic waters and those off Labrador and Newfoundland, that is, the Davis Strait and the Labrador Sea. On the Pacific side there are the eastern and western parts of the Bering Sea.
Fisheries in Arctic waters and adjacent sea areas have a long history, albeit not well documented until the 20th century. These fisheries developed differently in the various regions, but can be considered as fully developed around 1960. As defined here, the combined volume of Arctic fisheries is huge. Thus, the total annual average landings from all areas over the last four decades of the 20th century is about 6 million tons. Since some stocks are presently in depleted stages, the potential harvest could be even larger. The following is an account of the fisheries in the above areas.
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