Russia keen to maintain its historic rights to horse mackerel fishery

August 8, 2008 12:59

Vladivostok and Kamchatka-based fleet should resume horse mackerel fisheries in the Southeast Pacific Ocean in the coming two years, Chairman of Russia's Government Vladimir Putin the nation's fishermen as reported by Sever DV.

The grounds for the move have already been prepared as some time ago scientists from Vladivostok-based TINRO-Centre fishery research institute prospected for potential horse mackerel fishery in the Pacific Ocean on the vast area between Peru and New Zealand, said deputy president of Primorye Fishermen's Association Arslan Visaidov. Still earlier the fishing vessels of the Soviet Union were the first to harvest horse mackerel in abundant volumes. The largest catch was recorded in the year 1988 when the Russian fishermen harvested 1.5 million tonnes of horse mackerel.

One of the horse mackerel species was actively harvested in the second half of the 19th and in the first half of the 20th centuries in the Sea of Japan. With a length of up to 50 cm and a weight of up to 400 grams it was regarded an important object of fishery.

In the 1990s the Russian government stopped to finance fishing expeditions. As a result, it became unprofitable for the commercial fishermen to harvest the species and the fishing operations were suspended.

The grounds, which had been explored and then left by the Russian fleets, interested the fishermen from China, Poland, Norway and at a smaller extent Chile, New Zealand, Peru and other countries. As the fishery is not quota-regulated the foreign vessels can harvest as much horse mackerel as needed (in warm waters the schools move closer to the surface). They have organized a kind of an elite club of horse mackerel fishermen and secured an international approval for a document putting an end to admission of new members in a couple of years.

Therefore, the Russian officials think that there is a need to hurry up in order to "catch the leaving train" and the Federal Fisheries Agency is commissioned to prepare the necessary pack of documents. The idea to return the nation's fleet to the horse mackerel grounds in the Pacific Ocean provides for recruiting scientists for the purpose and there is also a need to define the composition and size of the necessary fleet of large trawlers. Now there are extremely few large trawlers in the Russian Far East, except for Spanish-built trawlers ordered by the government and now exploited by private companies. Therefore there is a need to buy new or used vessels and this acquisition will mean large investments. Besides, it will be necessary to establish the onshore base, both repair and processing.

However, Vladivostok fishermen think that high fuel costs are the main problem impeding resumption of the overseas operations. If the Government does not undertake the responsibility to purchase fuel or give another sort of support of compensating their high fuel expenses, it will be unprofitable even to go beyond the 200-mile zone to harvest Alaska pollock, herring or salmons and no operations on the distant grounds will be possible, said Arslan Visaidov.

First Vice-Premier Viktor Zubkov now supervising the fishery industry and agriculture agrees with the above concerns. During his recent visit to Vladivostok the fishermen told him that through the last calendar year the fuel costs grew by 80%, while the prices for the raw fish and processed products were practically unchanged. Due to the increased costs the efficiency of the fishery operations fell dramatically.

Every company and every coastal region challenge the problem in its own way. In Vladivostok-based Primorsky Krai the shipowners scrap the fishing vessels consuming light fuel. If these vessels are worn out physically and morally, they are written off as scrap metal. As a replacement, the shipowners purchase used trawlers operating on black oil. In Murmansk region the local administration studies the possibilities for subsidies, but only for those who harvest cheap fish species exclusively for less well-off citizens inside the country.

Viktor Zubkov takes the side of the fishermen in this issue, thus the federal government will mostly probably support those fishermen supplying cheap fish for the domestic consumption and the scheme and the form of such support are to be agreed yet.

One of the recent developments completely approved by the Government is the regulation that all the harvested products shall be landed at home and sold via five seafood markets. Two of them will be located in the country's west and three markets will be opened in the Russian Far East, one of the latest three markets will appear in Vladivostok. The respective decision was made by Vladimir Putin when he was President.

First of all, that will build up a barrier for poachers and smugglers. Then, it will bring further incentives for the development of onshore processing, accompanied by development of infrastructure, for example construction of large-capacity cold stores and reconstruction of harbor walls and approach ways. Besides, the customs officials, frontier officers and other inspecting bodies will have to clear coming and leaving vessels within three hours.

Head of Russia's Federal Fisheries Agency Andrey Krainy has officially announced that as of 2009 all the harvested fish will be cleared at customs in the Russian ports.

And though in general the Russian fishermen agree with the coming changes, there is one problem yet to be solved. It is connected with those fishermen having direct long term contracts with foreign buyers and paying all the customs duties and taxes for exported products.

It is feared however that increased landings to the Russian shores may result into saturation of the domestic market with delicatessen, semi processed fish, canned fish and other seafood products. In this situation it is important to overcome the monopoly of supermarket chains which margins can reach in excess of one half of the final product cost. One way to push the prices for chilled seafood down is to launch seafood markets in coastal regions, speed up veterinary control and give target loans with low interest rates to companies harvesting biological resources and willing to trade in fish without intermediaries.

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