WWF presents environmental performance of the 2017 salmon fishing season
Scientists think such failures are tightly connected with the climate change, global warming and natural depletion of salmon stocks in the North Pacific. However, the explicit problems of the fishing industry are not bounded only with natural factors. There is an irrational approach to fishing management at the ground level of the issue, which is aimed at instant profit instead of common sense and environmentally sound attitude.
In the beginning of 2000’s, Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands were at the top of the list catching more pink and chum salmon than any one of the regions of the Russian Far East. Several years ago, numbers from 100,000 to 200,000 metric tons of harvested fish were temptingly common to the fishermen of region. However, the first wake-up call sounded in 2015 the catch of 100,000 m.t. of salmon was called a disaster. But, sadly, it was not heard at that time. The fishermen’s luck has totally turned its back on the people of the Sakhalin this year. Their total catch is just 50,000 m.t.
In the circumstances of failure, there must be someone to blame. Fish-counting barriers and salmon hatcheries got a scolding this time. The representatives of the Fishing Enterprises Association, however, reject these accusations. They say that there were not so many fish-counting barriers this year, and hatcheries are good for the region and salmon reproduction. They assumed that the fishing companies overfish sometimes by setting too many fishing gears at their fishing grounds (there are more than 700 set nets off-shore Sakhalin). However, poaching is considered to be the main issue.
There are talks in the region saying that a fishing crisis is at hand caused both by stocks depletion and poor fishing management. There is no short way out of this crisis which can last as long as several years, experts say.
“Pink salmon is the main salmon species in Sakhalin. They are naturally bred; they are short-cycle species with a possibility of very high population level. There are still low chances that scientists can predict its rises and falls. Pink salmon’s homing is poorly developed, that is why there is a difficulty in predicting to which particular river the fish will return as well,” says Andrey Vinnikov, the director of WWF-Russia’s Sustainable Marine Fishing Program.
In 1990’s, the Amur River gave annual amount of salmon catches of 2,000 to 8,000m.t. Comparing to this, the total catch of 65,000 m.t. in 2016 was a blessing. Beginning from 2009, the salmon catches were growing steadily. The fishermen, on the other hand, were intensifying their fishing efforts. The number of drifting nets in the river body has almost doubled from 2,500 in 2014 up to 4,500 in 2017. A crucial drop in salmon runs came completely unexpected.
The scape goats were instantly found here as well. Fish weirs (a type of set nets) which are a traditional type of fishing gears in the mouth of the Amur River faced the public charges. Those who live upstream and who did not have a chance to catch a sufficient amount of salmon this year blame large fishing companies in severe violations. People said there was no fish at the spawning grounds and there would be no salmon anytime soon in the Amur River. The General Prosecutor Office, however, considered there were too many drifting nets in the river body. The Office recommended the Ministry of Agriculture to scrutinize the issue thoroughly.
No matter what fishermen say about the causes, scientists agree that the drop-down was quite expected due to the climate change. However, neither fishing companies nor indigenous communities were aware of it. The poor situation on the Amur River which led to a serious confrontation is the result of poor fishing management.
“So far, there is no point to panic and say that there will be no salmon in the Amur River any again,” says Sergey Korostelev, the head of sustainable fishing program of WWF-Russia’s Kamchatka Office.
“At the same time, it is obvious, that chum salmon population, which is the main concern in the region, will recover in two-four years. It is vital to learn the hard lessons of this year and learn it well in order to prevent this kind of situation to repeat any again.”
Comparing to its far-eastern neighbors, the Kamchatka peninsula is in a better condition. It is located in a mild zone where the climate change is less effective. Thus, if the depletion of salmon stocks is a general trend, it will reach Kamchatka later than any other region of the Russian Far East.
The fishermen of the region caught 240,000 m.t. of salmon this year. It really is a huge number and there must have been enough fish for everyone. However, there is a confrontation between the companies which own set net off-shore the peninsula and fishermen who use set gill nets in the same areas. Some companies demand a complete ban on set gill nets even now. If amounts of catch suddenly go down, the heat can reach the boiling point.
As some experts point out, a ban on set gill nets can lead to social disturbance depriving fishermen of legal source of income and driving them to poaching on the rivers of Kamchatka. By the way, poaching is the main problem of all described regions of the Russian Far East. The fight with criminal activity on the rivers lasts for decades with no crucial change to other side. It is exacerbated by overfishing and intensive fishing efforts in the eye of depleting salmon stocks.
“It is worth saying that there is still no 100% guarantee in scientists’ forecasts of salmon runs. A long-range forecast must take into account too many factors which influence salmon population every year. It is hard to be certain of which of the factors will turn out to be decisive,” says Andrey Vinnikov.
WWF considers that cooperation between all interested parties is needed. Only together, it is possible to work out an environmentally sound approach to sustainable fishing management which would take into consideration the interests and unique characteristics of all far-eastern regions to their mutual benefit and salmon thrift.