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Fighting illegal net fishing in the Amur River basin

09 july 2015
Amur environmentalists with the support of WWF Russia and HSBC Bank have organized 50 raids to combat illegal net fishing in water bodies of Zeya-Bureya Plain, nesting grounds of the Oriental stork.

About 10.5 kilometers of confiscated and destroyed fish nets, 40 harpoons for fishing, 2.5 thousand of illegally caught fish returned to the natural habitat. This is the result of three months work against illegal fishing implemented jointly by staff of the Amur Socio-Ecological Union, 'Amur-Taimen” Sport Fishing Club and employees of the Federal Fishery Management Agency (Rosrybolovstvo) supported by WWF Russia and HSBC bank.

Since early April, after ice break on the rivers and lakes, anti-poaching brigade made 50 raids to inspect the most «popular» illegal fishing water sites in Blagoveshensky, Tambovsky, Ivanovsky districts of Amurskaya Province. May turned out to be the most «productive» for the fighters with illegal fishing. At the end of the month, during one day of work on a raid, the brigade confiscated two kilometers of nets, and almost 9 kilometers of nets were removed during one month work. Most of fishing gear had mesh size of 10-15 mm, which is considerably smaller than allowed by the fishing regulations in the Amurskaya Province. The purpose of setting this fishing gear remains a mystery: it is impossible to catch big fish using them, and why «fishermen» need juvenile fish, none of the them could not give a clear explanation.

“Such a massive illegal fishing makes harm to livelihoods of many waterfowl, including Oriental stork, - comments Svetlana Titova, Protected Areas coordinator at WWF Russia Amur branch. “That is why our partner HSBC Bank supports Amur environmentalists aimed at preserving fish stocks of water bodies in Zeya-Bureya Plain, a key nesting sites of this rare bird.”

Widespread illegal net fishing in Amurskaya Province is the result of free and uncontrolled sale of nets in the shops and markets, including line nets made in China, which is officially prohibited for import into Russia.

“Indeed, net fishing is not banned in Amurskaya Province, - says Evgeny Lisitsyn, coordinator of “Stop the Nets” program, staff of AmurSoES. “However, this kind of fishing is only allowed for recreational fishing on designated fishing areas with a special permit. At the same time, free net sales do not prevent anyone to buy and set a net at any water body. The problem gets worse with obvious insufficient government agencies control over the following the fishing rules. After all, only 6 state fish inspectors are working in all southern areas of Amurskaya Province. They, with all their enthusiasm, cannot provide an effective protection of fish resources.”

In this regard, NGOs are trying to draw attention to the problem of uncontrolled net sales. Since March to May, members of “Amur-Taimen” Club and “Bars” Nature Protection Brigade organized a number of actions to collect signatures under a petition to the Prime Minister with an appeal to include fishing nets to the list of licensed products, to restrict the free sale of nets in the stores and on the market. The result of the campaign was 2500 signatures of citizens of Blagoveshchensk and Amurskaya Province. The most interesting thing is that this petition was signed by “illegal fishermen” as well. Moreover, this appeal has been launched on the web platform, where it was signed by more than 3,000 people.

The ongoing work is already demonstrating its effectiveness. For instance, the number of nets significantly reduced on the lakes, where raids were more frequent. This is noted both by rangers and by local fishermen. Secondly, this work brought even more significant result. Looking at NGO’s efforts and outcomes, the community members, fishermen, fans of fishing began to form their own anti-poaching groups cleaning «their» waters from nets. This gives hope for a serious reduction in illegal net fishing, and, to further improvement of the situation with fish stocks and feeding grounds of waterfowl and animals.

Most of fishing gear had mesh size of 10-15 mm, which is considerably smaller than allowed by the fishing regulations in the Amurskaya Province.
© Evgeny Lisitsin / AmurSEU
Morning «harvest» of poaching nets
© Evgeny Lisitsin / AmurSEU
More than 2.5 thousand of illegally caught fish returned to the natural habitat
© Evgeny Lisitsin / AmurSEU