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March 29, 2017

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Fishing fears thwart plan for Antarctic marine sanctuary

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- The countries that regulate fishing in the Antarctic were unable this week to agree on creating a giant marine sanctuary there.

At a meeting in Australia, the United States and New Zealand were rebuffed after submitting a joint proposal to protect the Ross Sea, which is considered one of the most pristine oceans in the world.

Scientists say an Alaska-sized sanctuary there would make an ideal place to monitor climate change away from the influence of man, while conservationists say the thriving colonies of seals and penguins should be left alone. But fishing captains say their catch is relatively small and sustainable, and they want to keep the status quo.

The joint proposal would have banned fishing altogether in some areas and allowed modest fishing in others areas, reflecting an uneasy compromise between the groups.

But at the Australian meeting, some nations, including Russia, Ukraine and China, balked at the proposal. They feared it would have too much impact on their annual haul of toothfish, which are marketed as Chilean sea bass. The 24 nations and the European Union finished two weeks of meetings late on Thursday night without coming to any agreement on the sanctuary proposal. The countries will meet again next July to further consider the idea.

"It's disappointing but not entirely surprising," said Murray McCully, New Zealand's minister of foreign affairs.

He said he plans to discuss the outcome soon with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has taken a close personal interest in the issue. McCully said that after the U.S. elections, he plans to devise a lobbying strategy with senior U.S. officials to try and get the proposal passed at the meeting next July.

Earlier this week, New Zealand and the U.S. finally resolved two years of negotiations over sanctuary boundaries and rules. The two nations had both advocated for a sanctuary and needed each other to give any proposal credibility. That's because New Zealand has fishing interests in the Ross Sea while the U.S. has scientific interests there.

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