The transition to direct weighing of catches is fraught with many problems in Russia

May 14, 2021 14:23

For quite a long time Russian fishing society discusses transfer from calculating catch weight to actually weighing the catch.  Stakeholders do have different opinions about feasibility of the change and problems arising with it.  Just recently Fishing Fleet Shipowners Association (FFSA) has proposed to the Ministry of Agriculture to oblige fishermen to weigh the fish immediately after the catch, once again studied the possible consequences of such a decision, relying on the opinions of foreign and Russian experts, who preferred to remain anonymous.

The FFSA proposal (the Association so far includes the Russian Fishery Company structures only), published by Kommersant, is motivated by an interest in maximizing the stability of pollock and other objects stocks, since the group plans to invest over a billion dollars in the construction of a new fleet.

According to sources, it is not really necessary to weigh the trawl itself. According to source A from an American fishing company, in many countries, catch weighing on a conveyor from the receiving hopper to a grading machine has been used for decades. At the same time, for the reliability of measurements, the scales are sealed by a state inspector, and the company provides round-the-clock video surveillance of the equipment. This method does not give a guarantee, but for all the time only one case of its hacking is known. A few years ago, a reputable company American Seafoods was caught successfully adjusting such a weightometer on one of its vessels and for three years misleading the government on the catch. By the way, the fine size was such that the company had to sell one of the trawlers to cover it.

Source B from a large Russian fishing company noted that juveniles discharge from Russian fishermen happens, and the Coast Guard regularly detects such cases.  Punishment follows, but it does not threaten the existence of the company. How much the calculating method of weighing the catch corresponds to the actual trawl weight is known today only to RFC only, who for a few months has operated the system on their new vessel Vladimir Limanov. It can be assumed that if they propose to make weighing mandatory, the results do not differ much from the calculation method.

An academic source C noted that independent observers are present on many vessels. By the way, this is one of the requirements for MSC certification, which all pollock catchers are concerned about. However, it is not yet clear what unexpected results would be obtained by weighing the catch in the trawl. Currently, production volumes are calculated based on the volume of finished products in accordance with the government-approved output coefficients. So, today the “approved” output of pollock fillets leaves about 25% of the raw material (the legal coefficient depends on the fishing zone, filleting equipment and season). At the same time, the actual yield also strongly depends on fish size and the fishing season. From fish 34-40 cm in size in the Sea of Okhotsk in March-April, sometimes only 12-15% of fillets can be made, and even less from fish of non-commercial size, however, if the captain of the vessel reports that he has produced 10 tons of 100 tons of fillet, troubles await him very quickly. Therefore, in practice, the catch in the ship daily report, had been calculated from the finished product according to the approved coefficient, which in this case gives catch about half the real one.

By the way, in this regard, the question arises whether the path chosen by the FAF and RFC for processing pollock into fillets, primarily on ships at sea, is environmentally and economically optimal. As you know, in production of pollock fillets in China out of HG fish, the final yield is usually 30-38% of the trawl weight.

Actually, the question is not how to measure the catch as precisely as possible, but how to provide resource health and sustainability.  Today, industry science and the regulator naturally take into account the overfishing described above, including those not noticed by the Coast Guard, and the inaccuracy of the coefficients when determining the TAC. The system has been thoroughly studied by various NGOs, particularly during MSC certifications of quite a few fisheries, and was approved as solid and reliable.  In the transition to accurate weighing, there will most surely be plenty of technical and legal surprises. The implementation of the FFSA proposal will open a Pandora's box, and the industry will be in a fever for several years.  Is the change worth it?  What would stakeholders really gain?  The questions have not been answered yet.  We could say that the proposal rather indicates the need for a detailed study of this mechanism, not some rapid change.

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