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23 Apr, 2010 05:24

North Russia’s fishing industry – fighting for survival

The Murmansk region is rich in natural resources, such as oil and gas, and its waters are stocked full of fish. Despite its Arctic location, the main port remains ice-free all year.

Hence, it is an important base for the Russian navy and its' nuclear-powered icebreakers.

Even though the weather and fertile waters are in their favor, local fishermen are having a hard time keeping their businesses afloat.

Valery Yarantsev was involved in one of the most dramatic sea chases of recent times. Accused by Norwegian coast guards of illegally fishing, the captain refused to be subjected to arrest and sailed right back to Russia. On his return he became a local hero and was elected mayor of a local village. He knows better than most that in Murmansk region fishing is more than just a way of life.

“The people here have always caught fish,” Yarantsev says. “All their lives were linked to the sea and fishing. The sea is the main source of life here.”

The boats go out when the weather permits, and despite a declining industry, there are still many who manage to keep afloat. Although it is not always smooth sailing.

“Three years ago, there were many more boats while today there are much fewer,” says Roman Brudenko, a fishing boat captain. “And there are no prospects for this number to increase in the near future.”

Over the last few years in the region, a decline in demand and free market conditions, as well as often-complex Russian fishing laws have seen a lot of business go elsewhere.

One of the problems is the fishing industry bought in the last decade to help with the depletion of fish stocks.

Now the problems are not with the restrictions themselves, but with the way in which they are implemented.

You have to buy a quota, so essentially the more you can buy, the more you can fish – but it makes it hard for the smaller businesses to compete with its much larger ones.

Known as “buy-catch”, the fisherman are not allowed to keep any fish they are not licensed for, so instead of ending up on someone’s dinner table, a huge number are simply thrown away.

“There are fish – you’ve seen it today. The cod population has grown, small boats can catch enough fish but it’s all about the licensing,” Brudenko claims. “And as you might have noticed, the license we have is for pollock, while today we caught cod and haddock, which by the rules we must dump back into the sea.”

With one of the only year-round ice-free ports in Russia, and with people like Valery playing a part in local politics, the fishing industry is fighting to remain as much a part of Murmansk life as it once was.

Mikhail Kalenchenko, an expert in environmental law, asserts that there is a number of reasons for that.

“We are witnessing the tremble which started long ago in the ’90s with the end of the Soviet union, when Russia used to fish elsewhere around the globe – around South America, in Africa – and our infrastructure was meant for that. Big fishing vessels which are not economically liable in present situation,” he told RT. “It’s easy to make regulations, but it’s very different to make them work, and to make a very good law which would work in a good way, you need to provide some another conditions for that. It’s not enough to say ‘do this and do that’. You have to provide infrastructure, and as far as I know, the most efficient fisheries in the world they are heavily subsidized. Russian fisheries don’t have this kind of support.”