Fishy Business Reaches Cabinet
The crab population in the Russian Far East
faces extinction within five years unless poachers are stopped
from selling the gourmet meat to Japan, Primorye region Governor
Sergei Darkin told the Cabinet on Thursday.
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, however, rejected
Darkin's appeal for a ban on crab fishing, saying it must continue.
"We need to go on, but all of it needs to come here. We
love crab," Fradkov said in comments broadcast by state
Over-fishing through poaching is a rampant
problem in all the bodies of water bordering Russia. The WWF
Russia conservation group estimates that $4.5 billion worth
of seafood is illegally exported from the Far East annually,
with corrupt officials taking a tidy cut from the proceeds.
Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev told the
Cabinet meeting that of the 1,200 tons of caviar harvested in
Russia from the Caspian Sea, only 10 tons were legal. The minister
called for a state monopoly to regulate the caviar trade to
save the sturgeon from extinction. "Caviar must be sold
through a state company," he said.
Fradkov tasked the ministry with overseeing
the fishing industry and instructed Gordeyev to "dig deeper"
into the issue.
Poachers find plenty of loopholes in the existing
system of fishing quotas, said Darkin's spokesman, Mikhail Polusmak,
in a telephone interview.
Nothing short of a ban would save the crab
population in the Pacific, he said, adding that -- like the
caviar harvest -- almost the entire crab catch in the Far East
is illegal, meaning no revenues flow into the regional budget.
Alexei Vaisman, who monitors wildlife trade
at WWF Russia, said that the crabs' spawning areas were especially
hard hit by poachers. However, a moratorium on crab fishing
would not solve the problem, he said, as it would only encourage
poaching. Vaisman suggested the real reason for Darkin's proposal
was to protect his own interests in the local fishing industry.