BERGEN, Norway |BERGEN, Norway (Reuters) - European nations agreed on Friday to set up fishing-free zones in remote parts of the Atlantic Ocean in the world's first high seas network of protected areas beyond the control of national governments.
Environment ministers from 15 European states, forming the OSPAR group overseeing the North-East Atlantic, said they would seek recognition of the six areas at the United Nations and from the United States and Canada on the other side of the ocean.
"This is a historic step," Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim told Reuters after the September 23-24 talks in Bergen, West Norway. "We will try to inspire other nations to do the same, like in the Indian ocean, the Pacific and other oceans."
"It will give a new level of protection to species living in the mid-Atlantic," he said. Species include whales, sharks, rays, orange roughy and cold-water corals.
Protection might mean permanent bans on fishing or seabed drilling or mining, perhaps even restrictions on shipping.
The six zones, covering a total 285,000 sq kms (110,000 sq miles) or an area equivalent in size to Italy or the U.S. state of Arizona, are mainly north of the Azores and west of Ireland.
European Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik also praised the deal as "a ground-breaking initiative."