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Drift-net fishery in the exclusive economic zone of Russia

Ecologically hazardous fisheries have always been a matter of serious concern of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

One of such is a large-scale drift-net fishing, which leads to a decrease in the sustainability and ecological integrity of marine ecosystems, and also causes serious damage to water and biological resources.

In pursuance of UN Resolution 46/215 on the consequences of large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing for marine biological resources, and in accordance with the Convention on the Conservation of anadromous fish species in the Northern Pacific, WWF Russia calls on the Government of the Russian Federation to establish significant restrictions on the use of drift-nets fishing. This is necessary to reduce negative impacts on salmon populations and the ecosystem of the North-Western Pacific.

Ocean salmon fishing should not replace the coastal fishery of the Russian Far East.

  1. Salmon fishery in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Russian Federation

    To date, there are two main types of salmon fishing in the Russian EEZ: traditional coastal fishing, which accounts for 90% of all Russian salmon catch, and large-scale fishing with drift-nets (floating). Despite the insignificant share of the latter, it has a great negative impact on the fishery as a whole. It is conducted at a distance of 12–200 miles from the border of inland marine waters and often blocks the migration routes of salmon. According to the fishery rules, 860 miles (1,600 km) of nets can be displayed daily in the sea. Drift-net fishery is mainly focused on catching sockeye salmon, while other species of salmon (pink salmon, chum salmon) are less attractive from the commercial point of view. The use of drift-net fishing gear has a significant effect on the survival of salmon and the quality of the final product: according to reports of fishermen, from 20% to 60% of sockeye salmon are damaged in the rivers of Chukotka.

    Today, in the exclusive economic zone of the Russian Federation drift-net fishing is conducted by Russian and Japanese flotillas. Based on the decisions of the Russian-Japanese Commission, since 1991, the quota for Japanese vessels is allocated by the Federal Agency for Fisheries (Rosrybolovstvo). In 2010, Russian commercial drift-net fishing has begun. For this type of fishery, the total allowable catch (TAC) of salmon is 22.5 thousand tons, which is divided in approximately equal in proportion to be caught by domestic and Japanese fishermen.

  2. Lack of transparency in the conduct of drift-net fishing

    The fishing is carried out in violation of the law of the Russian Federation «On environmental impact assessment», since the assessment of the impact on the environment is not conducted when approving the total allowable catches. Until 2013, the TAC for drift-net salmon fishing was allocated with a total volume without division by districts and without taking into account the species composition of catches and the natural distribution of salmon species. Studies by TINRO-Center have shown that the catch of sockeye salmon is 5–10% of the total catch of salmon in the Far East of the Russian Federation (Shunts, Dark, 2009–2012 [1]). According to the control studies of KamchatNIRO, drift-net catches of pink salmon are higher than catches of sockeye salmon in all fishing subareas, except for Petropavlovsk-Komandorskaya (Bugaev, 2009 [2]). However, reports from drift-net vessels show pink salmon catches to be 5 or more times smaller than sockeye salmon. In 2011, independent observers noted 46% of overfishing for sockeye salmon quotas in the Petropavlovsk-Komandorskaya subzone, which indicates manipulation of catch data on fishing vessels and confirms the existence of illegal dumping of pink and chum salmon to increase the share of sockeye salmon in the catches.

    Monitoring of official data and inspection of the fishery by independent observers of the Control Chamber of the Russian Federation and the Legislative Assembly of the Kamchatka Territory in 2011 have shown that there is practically no real control over the fishery. Fishing vessels either do not report on the by-catch of non-target objects, including seabirds and mammals, or significantly (on average 11 times) underestimate such data.

    Under the existing system of regulation, drift-net fishing in the Russian EEZ not only causes damage to nature, but also does not meet the interests of our country. Calculations have shown that in 1993–2008 the annual amount of damage caused to the state as a result of death of seabirds and mammals in drift-nets was 265 million rubles (at the exchange rate of the summer of 2008 — about 11 million USD). From this, Japanese fishermen accounted for an average of about $ 6 million a year. If the companies conducting drift-net fishing paid for the damage caused to ecosystems, then, perhaps, the fishery would fail to make profit. However, no one claims this damage, and the existing system does not motivate the participants of the fishery to reduce this damage (Artyukhin et al. 2010 [3]; Moiseev, 2011 [4]).

  3. Impact of drift-net fishing on salmon populations in the Russian EEZ

    History shows that drift-net fishing can have not only ecological but also extremely negative economic consequences: large-scale salmon fishery, that has been carried out by the Japanese drift-net fleet on the high seas (about 200–250 thousand tons of fish) after the Second World War until the end of the 1970s has led to a catastrophic drop in the catch of coastal salmon in the Kamchatka Peninsula. For this reason, in the 50s of the 20th century, 23 fish processing plants, 25 fish canning plants, 35 fish processing bases, 7 motor-fishing stations, and 30 fishery collective farms have closed for good.

    At present, when the number of main species (pink and chum salmon) is high, the effect of drift-net fishin is local, in some rivers approaches may not be observed due to the closure of fish migratory paths; but with the fall in the level of reproduction, the catastrophe of the 50s may reoccur. In addition, sockeye and species with an even lower number, such as chinook and coho salmon are exposed to significantly stronger effects of overfishing.

    In an effort to achieve optimal economic performance, fishermen attempt to extract first of all the most valuable kinds of salmon, such as sockeye salmon. At the same time, less valuable species of fish, such as pink and chum salmon, go overboard (Artyukhin et al. 2004 [5]). Volumes of such dumping are difficult to estimate, however, according to the data of almost all questioned observers and inspectors; fishermen often hide the actual volume and species composition of the catch, as well as the fact of fish being dumped overboard. According to the official reports received from Russian and Japanese drift-net vessels, the share of sockeye salmon in the catch is up to 90% (Klimov, 2007 [6]), while the share of less valuable species is much smaller (for example, pink salmon is 1.8%). Such official data does not at all correspond to the real ratio of the numbers of these salmon species in nature, where pink and chum salmons are actually predominant. This confirms the fact of fish sorting on board drift-net vessels and dumping of less valuable fish overboard.

    The fishing period of the drift-nets fleet lasts from May to September inclusively. At the beginning of the fishing season, in catches, there is a large proportion of fish with a fragile scaly cover, which lose a significant part of scales upon contact with the drift-net. Such a catch is not suitable for processing and is therefore thrown overboard without registration in the fishing log. It is known that the migration of salmons to rivers ends in mid-August. Nevertheless, drift-net fishing is conducted until September 31, when immature chum, sockeye salmon and chinook salmon enter the net. A significant part of the salmon caught during this period is simply thrown overboard, as their commercial quality does not meet the demands of the market. Thus, this fishery violates the Federal Law «On Fisheries and Conservation of Aquatic Biological Resources» and «Fisheries Rules for the Far Eastern Fisheries Basin».

    Every year between 1995 and 2004, drift-net fishing accounted for an average of 26.5% of the catch of the Kamchatka River (29% in 1995 and 32% in 2004). At the same time, the number of mature part of herds of salmon decreased steadily from 4.644 million in 1995 to 1.486 million in 2004 (Bugaev, Kirichenko, 2008 [7]). Thus, drift-net fishing affects future salmon spawning approaches.

  4. The impact of ocean salmon fishing on marine ecosystems

    Results of a research has shown that Japanese and Russian drift-net fisheries cause significant harm to populations of seabirds and mammals (Artyukhin et al., 2004 [8]; Artyukhin et al., 2010 [9]). This impact on the fauna of the Bering Sea is especially significant. In combination with other unfavorable factors (climate change, deterioration of food base), the death of birds and mammals in drift-nets can lead to a significant decrease in the number of many species of animals, which will significantly affect the structure of marine ecosystems and the stability of natural processes.
    Overall, more than 1.2 million seabirds perished in drift-nets during salmon fishing by Japanese and Russian vessels in the exclusive economic zone of the Russian Federation in 1993–1998, and from 1993 to 1999 about 15,000 marine mammals (Artyukhin and others, 2004; Artyukhin et al., 2010). The effect of drift-net fishing on the condition of bird colonies and sea mammal rookeries, for example in the Komandorsky Reserve, is not taken into account at all.

  5. Importance of traditional coastal fisheries

    Coastal fishing determines the way of life of indigenous peoples and a significant part of the population of the Far Eastern region as a whole, creates jobs and is an important part of regional budgets overall. According to economists, the annual rental income generated by the sale of salmon and their products, varies in Kamchatka from 1.23 to 1.63 billion US dollars depending on biological productivity (Bobylev et al., 2008) [10].

In the view of the discussed above threats to the marine ecosystems of the North-West Pacific, WWF Russia recommends that the Federal Fishery Agency and NPAFC take the following restrictive measures in the sphere of drift-net fishing management in the Russian EEZ in the very near future.

  1. Bringing the organization of fishery in compliance with the federal law «On Environmental Expertise»

    When determining the magnitude of potential extraction of salmon by fishing (marine and coastal), the main principle is to maintain their reproduction at high levels by allowing the necessary number of producers to pass through to the spawning grounds. Therefore, it is necessary to determine the volume of extraction that should not affect coastal fishing and reproduction. The TAC of salmon in the Russian EEZ should be small in proportion to the approaches of individual species, it should be determined for each fishing area separately, and should be based on calculations of the expected number of mature fish for the following year. It should be formulated not earlier than November-December of the current year, when such calculations can be performed. The improvement of the strategy and change of regulations for salmon fishing should be conducted openly with the participation of expert scientists, fishermen associations, regional fishery councils, local governments, environmental government and non-governmental organizations. The materials of the TAC of Pacific salmon in the Russian EEZ must obligatorily pass public hearings in the Kamchatka Krai and contain a detailed assessment of environmental impact, including consequences or benefits of abandoning the proposed economic activity.

  2. Implementation of an effective monitoring and control system

    One of the most important tasks now facing the industry is the creation of a reliable, objective and economically independent system for monitoring and controlling the fishery.

    The introduction of such a system will enable us to obtain scientifically valid data necessary for effective regulation of the fishery.

    As practice shows, without permanent work of qualified and financially independent inspectors-observers on the vessels of the drift-net fleet, it is very difficult to assess the real impact of fishing on the status of Pacific salmons, seabirds and marine mammals populations.

    As one of the measures to control compliance with fishing regulations in terms of the size of drift-nets lines and their installation schemes, it is necessary to equip each line with independent sensors of satellite positioning — TSF, combined with buoys.

  3. Improvement of fishing strategy

    Improvement of salmon fishing strategy and regulation of its management should be conducted openly, with the participation of expert scientists, fishermen associations, regional fishery councils, local governments, environmental government and non-governmental organizations. In their work, regional fisheries councils, anadromous fish committees under regional administrations and international organizations such as the North Pacific Anadromous Fishery Commission (NPAFC) and the North Pacific Marine Research Organization (PICES) should strive to formulate maximally specific recommendations for the participating countries, developed on the basis of the ecosystem approach, in accordance with the UN Resolution on Sustainable Fisheries adopted in 2006.

    When choosing a strategy for the development of salmon fishery, all social, environmental and economic aspects and consequences of these choices should be taken into account. Priority should still remain for coastal fisheries, since it is this type of fishery that takes into account the interests of the local population and indigenous peoples.

  4. Amendments to the Fisheries Rules for the Far East

    In order to improve control over the drift-net fishing, it is necessary to amend the Fisheries Rules for the Far East, namely, to limit:

    • Drift-net fishing season for the period from the 1st of June to the 15th of August;
    • The length of nets — no more than 1 km for one fishing operation;
    • Time of nets’ exposure — no more than 12 hours per operation;
    • The distance from the coast or the outer border of inland sea waters when fishing should be at least 2 and not more than 12 nautical miles;
    • Fishing should be carried out on ships measuring less than 24 m in length between perpendiculars.

If the introduction of such restrictions is not accepted, WWF will continue to seek total ban on oceanic drift-net fishing, carried out by both Japanese and Russian vessels in the exclusive economic zone of Russia.

[1] Bulletin No. 4-No. 7 of the implementation of the «Concept of the Basin Pacific Salmon Research Program» — 2009–2012 — Vladivostok.

[2] Bulletin No. 4 on the implementation of the «Concept of the Basin Pacific Salmon Research Program « — Vladivostok: 2009.

[3] «Commercial drift-net fishing of Pacific salmon and its impact on the marine ecosystem» — M: 2010., By-catch of seabirds and mammals in drift-net fishing of salmon in the northwestern part of the Pacific Ocean

[4] «Damage is calculated, but not paid for» — Damage calculated but not paid for

[5] Commercial drift-net fishing for Pacific salmon and its impact on the marine ecosystem — M.: 2004., Salmon fishery and its impact on the marine ecosystem

[6] «Poaching in Law» — Poaching in Law

[7] «Feeding and spawning lakes of Asian sockeye salmon» — Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, 2008

[8] Salmon fishery and its impact on the marine ecosystem

[9] Seabird and mammal by-catch in drift-net fishing of salmon in the northwestern part of the Pacific Ocean

[10] Bobylev SN, Kasyanov PV, Solovyova SV, Stetsenko A.V. «Comprehensive Economic Assessment of Salmonids in Kamchatka.« — M.: Human Rights, 2008. — 64 p.