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Canada’s chief negotiator for the newly signed international moratorium on fishing in the High Arctic says the country will help lead research in the area.

“I think we have expressed a lot of leadership up to now and I don’t see that changing,” Nadia Bouffard said from Illulissat, Greenland, where the groundbreaking deal was being signed Wednesday.

The deal brings Canada together with the other four nations with Arctic coastlines as well as China, Iceland, Japan, South Korea and the 28 members of the European Union. Inuit from three countries were also involved in the treaty.

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No commercial fishing takes place in the area, about the size of the Mediterranean Sea and defined as 200 nautical miles from any coastline. But large parts of that once-frozen ocean are now open in the summer and fishers have expressed interest in its potential.

Experts applauded the deal as a rare example of the international community coming together to prevent a problem, instead of responding to a crisis.

Bouffard warned that current evidence suggests fish stocks in that area wouldn’t support commercial fishing.

“There isn’t sufficient biomass to sustain a commercial fishery,” she said.

But that may change as the climate continues to warm and fish migrate north. Bouffard said Canada will play an important role in research into the entire ecosystem.

“We certainly have Coast Guard vessels that go to the Arctic every year. We have expertise in ice and fisheries science.”

Bouffard said the research program would extend beyond the High Arctic waters to include areas closer to shore.

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“The science will be looking at a broader area.”

Under the terms of the deal, the science program must be determined within two years of the moratorium coming into force. That happens after each signatory ratifies it, a process some suggest could take about a year.

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