Only Minuses, No Pluses: WWF Russia Opinion on New Legislation on Fisheries
Federal Law “On the changes in the Federal Law “On Fisheries and on Conservation of Aquatic Biological Resources” and to some legislative acts of the Russian Federation” which was adopted by the State Duma and the Council of Federations poses, as viewed by ecologists, both positive and negative developments.
A lot was recently said on the challenges related to management effectiveness in the fisheries sector, and specific attention was given to the most serious issue that is the improvement of legislative base. WWF carefully tracks whatever changes in fisheries legislation as these can either lead to improvement in the state of marine and other aquatic biological resources, but also can have incredibly bad consequences for conservation and productivity of water ecosystems.
Legal standards and regulatory provisions are defined for commercial fishing to secure full-scale governmental regulation in the field of exploitation and conservation of biological resources, to provide for technical and operational maintenance of the fishing fleet and seaports, and to facilitate the development of national fish-processing enterprises.
- All fish that is caught within the 200-mile zone shall be subject to customs procedures at the territory of Russian Federation. This scheme will be put into force in 2009 so that both fishermen and the state agencies would be well-prepared for such global change.
- As from 1 January 2008 all fishermen will be obliged to pay 10% of the standard tax for the use of aquatic biological resources if they deliver and unload the catch in Russian ports. For the exported fish all 100% tax. Further on since 1 January 2009 all the catch within 200-mile zone, at the shelf and in the inner waters of Russian Federation should be put forward to the Russian customs prior to export. Coastal regions will get larger share from the payment for the use of biological resources: up to 80% instead of current 20-30%.
- Like in the latest years fishing quotas will be issued to fishermen on the basis of “fishing history”, i.e. depending on the harvest in the preceding four years. At the same time quotas will be given for ten years ahead, instead of current five year period. This will enable for long-term investments by fishermen, for example for building of new fishing boats and ships.
- Amendments to the Law on Fisheries make it possible to lease rivers with salmon in form of concessions. Fishermen will be able to use them solely for the period of up to twenty years, provided that they also make certain investment commitments, for example to build a fish-processing facility or similar. As it was stated by the Head of State Fisheries Committee business is waiting long for such decision and is already willing to invest.
- New Law declares war to poaching. Data from fisheries monitoring system will be considered as evidences in court. Furthermore those who violate this Law will be deprived of fishing rights, and all fishing gear and the boat will be confiscated. The latter was formerly almost impossible. Evidently some certain complications for poachers will emerge with introduction of one more Article of this Law which states that by 1 July 2008 the Government shall provide conditions “for sales of aquatic biological resources and processed products at the stock exchange”.
- Additionally to this Law increased role of corporate fisheries organizations, and particularly of fishermen unions and associations is stated for all state decision-making processes concerning fisheries and conservation of aquatic biological resources.
- In addition to the Law on Fisheries transition of fisheries economy research towards improved budget funding is justified. Quotas for the catch of aquatic biological resources for scientific purposes are defined according to annual plans for the state monitoring research of resources.
- Not all the objects of fishing will be subject to maximum allowable harvest quotas. In case of anadromous fish, particularly for salmons, rapid regulation of fishing will be carried out by specialized commissions just at the sites and in the regions. The latter will be led by Governors who will be made personally responsible for the rapid regulation of salmon fishing. This practice was already in force in the USSR, and it led that time to rather good results.
- The Law introduces changes to the list of harvested biological resources as well as to the payment rates. Rates for harvesting of the most widespread and socially valuable resources are made larger, while the payments for harvest of some marine mammals are reduced by 15 to 80 times.
- Starting from 2009 fishing boats operating under non-Russian flags will not be given fishing quotas. Sole priority in distribution of commercial fishing quotas and other economic preferences within the exclusive economic zone of Russian Federation will be given to the Russian fishing fleet.
- At the same time inter-governmental agreements with Norway and Japan will remain in force and operational; they provide for improvement and further development of intergovernmental legal monitoring of fishing, for control of fish products supplies, for the joint actions against poaching by Russian and non-Russian fishing vessels, and for setting up modern fish processing facilities at the Russian coasts.
It was impossible to fully avoid drawbacks in the new Law, thus further amendments and improvements are still needed.
- It is necessary to improve the main Federal Law No. 166, i.e. to approve urgently the legislation on self-governed non-governmental organizations so that fishermen associations could carry out full-scale operations. A number of fisheries-related documents, decrees and regulations shall be adopted. Almost every amendment to the Law on Fisheries currently requires subordinate legal regulatory acts.
- It is seen as a problem that “coastal fishing” in its full meaning is excluded from the provisions of the acting Law, as well as that the coastal fishing quotas can be given only to those legal and physical bodies who are registered within a certain administrative region of Russian Federation.
- In the new version of the Law there is not any more any provision for opinions of regional governmental authorities on share distribution of coastal fishing quotas; all decision-making powers are transferred to the federal level.
- Fishing areas shall be distributed through the tender process. The fact that historical links to the fishing sites are not to be considered anymore might lead to re-distribution of these rights and to exclusion of local companies; it can also restrict local population fishing interests in coastal areas.
- The document has many external references that determine its practical enforcement; however old relevant external legislation will come in contradiction with the new Law since 1 January 2008.
- It is not clear why the payment rates have been decreased for some commercially valuable and profitable types of biological resources such as different species of crabs, shrimps, octopus and squids, and Silver Carp.
- Expansion of the Russian fishing fleet to harvest marine biological resources in open waters were USSR fleet was operating earlier is foreseen. Formerly Russia was getting from these areas up to five million tons of fish and seafood per year. State Corporation “Rosrybflot” is established for this purpose. There is a threat that development of the drift fishing fleet, similar to that of Japan, might be lobbied at the highest level; then over 40% of salmon will be caught in the open seas. Given the fact that control is still weak might will lead to over-exploitation of the open seas resources, to make worse the situation in economic zones of developing states, and to cause overall deterioration of coastal fishing conditions.
- Fishermen are worried that the regulation on obligatory sales of all fish products through the stock exchange will cause lots of complications; article 19 of the Law provides that all who harvest, process or produce fish and seafood products, - including also all fishing vessels and coast-based enterprises, - shall be allowed to sell raw, processed or final products only at the stock exchange. The procedures for this are still to be defined by the Government of Russian Federation; in such conditions it might be the case that capacity of the Russian seaports will not be sufficient, and they will rather collapse not being able to process simultaneously so large amounts of fish.
- In the previous version of the Law which was approved by the State Duma in its 2nd hearing auctioning of all shares, quotas and even fishing rights was suggested. However after many protests, including those by WWF, the role of auctions is significantly decreased.
- There are no provisions in the Law on the rights of coastal administrative regions, for example for their role in management of fishing areas, coastal fishing etc.
All this still requires additional serious work, and WWF will make the effort that all favorable conditions are in place for development of sustainable fisheries in Russia. We are open for cooperation on this with all responsible fishermen, with the state agencies and non-governmental organizations.
Suggestions by WWF:
- 1. Part of suggestions made by WWF during open discussions on the Law and the new regulations on fisheries have been already accounted for in the latest version of the Law. For example since 2002 we were steadily opposing the idea of auctions for distribution of quotas, considering this as the mechanism that will lead to increase in poaching. We supported fishermen in their protests, and the role of auctions is currently much reduced. Auctions will only be relevant to those quotas that were taken away from poachers or not being fully used. Thanks to our protests provision that allowed fishing in the marine mammals protection zones is excluded from the new fishing regulations.
- Besides development of effective regulatory base and procedures for fishing itself and effective control system shall be established as well. A number of suggestions related to satellite monitoring of fisheries developed by WWF already in 2004 shall be taken into account when regulatory documents and relevant legislation on this issue are made. The need for adequate training and permanent presence of qualified and financially independent observers on fishing boats shall be addressed and solved.
- Law on Fisheries No. 166 provides for designation of protected fisheries zone. Regulation on such zones shall be developed, and the system shall be worked out accordingly to secure effective protection of reproduction sites, migration, foraging sites of valuable species of fish, invertebrates and mammals. Regulation on marine mammals protection zones shall be made more clear and detailed.
- The role of fisheries councils shall be made stronger. It is necessary to involve better and more often associations of fishermen, regional fisheries councils, local community governance and governmental and non-governmental nature conservation organizations. It is worth to establish a Public Council (for example WWF participates in similar Councils at the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Industry and Energy) with participation of associations, fishermen trade-unions, large fishing and fish-processing companies, NGOs. Additionally involvement of the best scientists and qualified NGO representatives into the scientific and technical Council and in development of fisheries management plans shall be seeked.
- As it was demonstrated by WWF ageing and low efficiency of the fishing fleet is the main reason for poor harvests. International expertise shall be considered for the ways and solutions in terms of reducing the portion of low-efficiency fishing fleet.
- Participation of NGO representatives shall be called upon by the State Fisheries Committee for such international for a as NEAFC, AntCon, Norway-Russia Commission. New Commission shall be established for the North-West Pacific Ocean Fishing, as PAISIS is not really an effective one. To secure larger influence of Russia on the international decision-making the role of Russian Federation in FAO shall be strengthened.
- WWF supports an number of proposals made by the fisheries-related scientists and by responsible fishermen themselves:
- On changes in the system to define maximum allowable catch for species with significant number fluctuations. For example salmon harvest can be regulated through controlled access to spawning areas for the reproducing fish stocks only, and through further subdivision of all forecasted fisheries objects into groups on the basis of their numbers and the scales of commercial fishing impact;
- We gratefully acknowledge the fact that many representatives of fisheries-related science call for the shift towards ecosystem-based approach of multi-species fisheries, for introduction of observers system, electronic weighing and precise registration of fish and seafood harvests directly on board the ships.
Detailed WWF position can be found at WWF website (in English: http://www.wwf.ru/about/positions/drifter/eng/). In particular it says that selling of the most valuable Pacific Salmon species just “in the water” to the foreign companies and to the Russian exporting companies based abroad is not at all fair; at the same time fishing and processing of such valuable species within Russia could bring substantial profits, if organized properly, to the regions of Russia itself. With such circumstances the position of nature conservation organizations calling upon limitation or even complete ban on commercial drift-net fishing by both Japanese and Russian vessels in the economic zone of Russia is well justified. Priority shall be given to coastal fishing, and the interests of local aboriginal people shall be taken into account as well. There is also a need to restrict, even to provide for it legally, the number of Russian and foreign fishing boats carrying out drift-net fishing for so called research purposes; all the vessels involved in fish research shall be multi-functional, and the length of drift nets shall not exceed five kilometers. Harvests made by such vessels shall serve only for research but not for any kind of substituting commercial fishing, or, in other words, the catch for research shall be limited.