Thursday, August 27, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Doughnut-Hole Pact -- Overfished Bering Sea Will Get A Welcome Break

SEATTLE'S beleaguered fishing industry got a rare taste of good news the other day when six major fishing nations agreed to a two-year ban on fishing in the vast expanse of international waters in the central Bering Sea."

Over a decade, untold millions of tons of pollock and other groundfish have been scooped from the Bering Sea by factory ships from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Poland, Russia and the U.S.

Most of those fish are native to U.S. waters, migrating into the international waters - frequently referred to as the Doughnut Hole - to feed.

Scientists suspect that largely unregulated fishing has decimated stocks that are the primary target of the $1 billion industry based in Seattle. Catches in the Doughnut were reported to be around 3 million tons per year in the mid-1980s; this year they have dropped to about 10 percent of that.

For several years, U.S. and Russian officials have been trying to prod Japan and other fishing nations into an agreement. Last week, their efforts finally paid off.

To be sure, the agreement comes as fishing stocks have all but disappeared in the disputed areas. In the short run, at least, fishing nations gave up next to nothing.

But U.S. negotiators feel the ban will provide an opportunity for the pollock resource to rebound. Meanwhile, the Doughnut Hole moratorium and the earlier ban on drift nets may set an important precedent in the complex diplomacy of international marine conservation.

Next time, let's hope fishing nations reach agreement while there is something left to conserve.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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