A MEMOIR

The Kamchatrybvod Press Center is a unique phenomenon. Not one basin administration in the country has anything like it. But if we speak of the magazine Northern Pacific, the newspaper Pacific Review, and the Far Eastern Fishermenís Movie Studio, as its public (outside) units, of the Charitable Public Foundation for the Conservation of North Pacific Bioresources (the North Pacific Foundation), and now of the All-Russian Movie and Television Festival, "Living Water," founded and organized in part by the North Pacific Foundation, and of the Russian-American Public Conference on the Problems of Conservation in the Bering Sea, there is not a single state or public organization anywhere in the Russian motherland that has approached the problems of conserving aquatic bioresources in the North Pacific as thoroughly and completely or enjoys such tremendous prestige among people in the fishing industry, scientists, "greens," international conservation organizations, and even officials, from fish right up to the State Fisheries Committee, as the Kamchatrybvod Press Center.
…Before the USSR introduced offshore economic zones, Kamchatrybvod was… a feeble old office that mostly concerned itself only with the problems of river fishing and local home-grown poachers.
The office had practically no authority. The district party committees were in charge of regulating industry — and just try to say a word in defense of resources: give us the plan and shut up! The inspectors took their powerlessness out on the local population: it was for the publicís good that limits on sturgeon catch had been imposed, so they prohibited feeding valuable fish species to sled dogs (but what were they supposed to feed them when the Kamchatka rivers had nothing else in them!?), and then they banned feeding sturgeon to the people themselves. To the Kamchadals, who had done nothing for thousands of years but catch and eat Kamchatka sturgeon for their own living! When I came to Kamchatrybvod, the head of the fish conservation section, Sergey Viktorovich Ogurtsov, was just starting to establish a complete card file of Kamchatka poachers… So when the file was alphabetized, I ran through it and saw to my horror that the most popular surnames in the file belonged to the Kamchadal tribes: the Speshnevs, the Trapeznikovs, the Uksusnikovs, the Krivogornitsyns, the Abakumovs, the Popovs, the Mashikhins. I read through their files — mostly 10 or 15 fish, repeat offense, jail. From the sixties to the nineties, we had locked up hundreds of members of the aboriginal population, the Kamchadals, for poaching. Until 1917, they had paid duty to father tsar, but by the will of the Soviet authorities, had been converted in 1926 to "Russians," so that 70 years later — not until the late nineties — they had regained the right to be and be called Kamchadals (Itelmens). That is, we had been waging an undeclared civil war. Or committing genocide…
But we in the fish conservation section, in order to somehow close the problem of providing fish to the residents of Kamchatka, set ourselves the task of introducing licensed netting of sturgeon. Fortunately, we already had a model in Magadan Region…
But I would not linger long at Kamchatrybvod: what had been going on (and incidentally, what is still going on) on the Kamchatka sturgeon rivers, the moral character of our so-called "shore" inspectors, who had been fleecing the locals and sitting in the building writing tickets according to standards and plans they wrote themselves for those below them was revolting…
So why did I still stay? Because with the introduction of marine economic zones, Kamchatrybvod urgently needed to expand the staff of the conventional fishing section, and it recruited people my age, graduates of the Far Eastern Fishing Higher Technical School (Dalrybvtuz). They were young, energetic, self-assured, daring, literate, mischievous, happy, and friendly. They went out to sea and started fighting with the fishermen like little kids. The sleeping captains and directors of the factory ships, the harvesters of our Far Eastern seas, who took fish from professional fishermen on such crushing terms that the fishermen with seines and supertrawlers howled like wolves, stood at ease before the boy inspectors, who, using production factors, squeezed overcatches out of the paperwork as easily as if they were cracking nuts, conducted investigations, opened celebrated cases, which led to loss of party cards, and that meant disgrace and sometimes jail.
There was no working with these boys — they couldnít be bought, gotten drunk, or tempted. Their young bodies processed vodka instantaneously, and their heads didnít swim, they ran like clockwork. Bribes were a "bonus" for them, so their sense of fellowship, responsibility, and sporting chance were so great, and their feeling of camaraderie followed the principle of the great Taras Bulba they had learned in school: "There is no bond more sacred than camaraderie"… among men.
And I fell into Kamchatrybvod at this very time when the glory of its marine inspectors had reached its zenith. Only later they began to break up, to take to the bottle, to buy and sell themselves, to play favorites…
And I picked up this attitude of theirs. I got carried away, got interested, got into it, as they say. We fought on all fronts. Anyone who remembers the eighties probably knows that there was a so-called departmental censorship, in addition to the state censorship. Every one of my publications, without fail, whether it was for the regional or the national press, passed the double inspection, was mercilessly torn apart. But even so, we broke through to the very top, right up to Pravda. The preparation of a publication was an event for the entire Kamchatrybvod — a draft of the article was passed around to every section, and each one had the right to its own opinion and its own position. That is, every article was a collective labor. Or at least the result of the most interested discussion. So the articleís appearance in the press was also an event for all of us, not just for one author. We suffered together over the pieces "cut out" by the censor, we waited for reactions and official responses together. And they came — our (I emphasize, our) publications were the subject of regional party committee board meetings more than once.
In other words, we felt like part of a common, great cause.
And they were not my personal victories. These were our shared victories, so in those days, Kamchatrybvod represented something unified, and we were part of that unit. I was elected chairman of the Labor Board in those days, so we bonded even more closely than before. Though I must admit that we bonded right in the office itself; at sea, the negative processes became more and more irreversible. At first, it was the "golden crab"óbribes and contraband. Then it was big bucks and "green" in the foreign fields.
The conventional, later marine, section branched out. More and more new people came in, with their own world views, their own demands, their own moral values or complete lack thereof. The section branched out and became more and more petty and superficial.
In 1992, I was invited to take the position of deputy director of the cultural administration of the Kamchatka Regional Administration. The reason was that I had previously studied the history of development of the North Pacific, and 1993 was the 250th anniversary of Russiaís commercial exploitation of Russian North America… So I agreed. But when the holiday, which the Russian government had decided to make a national holiday, was celebrated in August 1993, I was contacted, by Kamchatrybvodís First Deputy Director, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Chekulayev, at the personal instruction of its Director, Nikolay Nikolayevich Markov, with an offer to return to Kamchatrybvod and continue the work I had done there for eight years.
Quite a bit had been done in that time: hundreds of articles published in the Kamchatka and national newspapers and magazines, publications in various collections, and our own books. Thousands of lectures had been given, numerous posters and bulletins had been issued. And I must admit that all this gave me great satisfaction… In the year that I spent in culture, away from the everyday grind and the fish management rat race, I came to understand something important: that we were shooting at pigeons with slingshots.
What had changed in those eight years? Were there fewer poachers on the Kamchatka rivers? No, their number had grown so large that we could say (and we ultimately did say) that Kamchatrybvod was incapable of coping with poaching. For various reasons, some completely independent of Kamchatrybvod itself. But the fact remains, we were incapable. Were there now fewer violators of the Fishing Regulations at sea? Not a chance. The trends were pretty persistent, and at the very first opportunity, the entire — I said entire — Far Eastern fishing fleet rushed into an area where Alaska pollack fishing was banned at depths of less than 300 fee t — the supertrawlers, and the large refrigerated fishing trawlers, and of course the entire middle-sized fleet. And here economics dictated the terms. As for the inspectors, the breakdown was already obvious: money, lots of it, worked its evil way unceasingly: as they say, keep one eye on the till while you work.
The years confirmed that I had been right in my musings. They confirmed it so completely that I was dumbfounded…
Kamchatka occupies a unique place in the Russian Far East, because fishing and factory ships from throughout Far East, including the foreign fleet, operate in its waters, in Kamchatrybvodís zone of responsibility. Fishing policy is set by Moscow, while Kamchatrybvod (however good it may be) is only the capitalís executive agent. So if we speak of shaping public opinion on the problems of conserving aquatic bioresources in the northern Pacific Ocean (the North Pacific), we must speak of the creation of our own mass media that will be capable of reporting these problems at the national and international levels to the very highest levels of government. This suggestion of mine was adopted enthusiastically at Kamchatrybvod. And that was my mission when I returned: to create a Kamchatrybvod Press Center, and use it to organize a system of mass media capable of raising the issues and problems of conserving the fish resources of the North Pacific to such a high volume.
At the time, Kamchatrybvod still recognized its own high mission in the cause of conserving the stateís fish resources. It was a state agency according to both the letter and the spirit of the law. And that doesnít seem so long ago — some seven or eight years.
…But then everything changed. It changed at the moment when, in the film Crab Fever, we raised the topic from that very conference with the Governor of Kamchatka, where Kamchatrybvodís Director defended his position on settlements with Dalmoreprodukt. We understood what would happen when the topic hit the screens. But that was our warning — we knew full well where this alliance with Dalmoreprodukt would lead, how it would play out for Kamchatrybvod and what disgrace would cover all of us working here.
…The attacks on the Press Center began. And the second reform of fishery management hit us, too: the marine inspectors (to the delight of all the rest of us who had not been tainted by corruption!) was transferred to the Federal Border Service, and the cutbacks affected all parts of Kamchatrybvod… We werenít afraid of the cutbacks, since we had long understood that our knowledgeability of Kamchatrybvodís affairs was evoking a strong negative reaction from those who were afraid of publicity, and we were prepared for the worst. Back in 1991, the Charitable Public Foundation to Save the Kamchatka Sturgeon had been formed; it was later reorganized as the Charitable Public Foundation for the Conservation of North Pacific Bioresources (the North Pacific Foundation). Most of our programsí financing went through these foundations: interests in fishing companies, grants to conservation organizations, support for the administration, etc.
So we were and still are fairly independent, ready to abandon the inhospitable walls of Kamchatrybvod or begin a war with its management at any moment, defending the cause to which I have personally devoted most of my life. The cause, I repeat, of conserving the North Pacificís aquatic bioresources.
…The campaign against the Press Center and its constituent entities is quite predictable and understandable. Only they are too late: we are removing all our organizations from Kamchatrybvod, with which, thanks to the present management, we have parted ways.
But the departure of the outside organizations — the editorial boards of the Severnaya patsifika and the Tikhookeanskiy vestnik, the Far Eastern Fishermenís Movie Studio, and the North Pacific Foundationósays absolutely nothing about our retreat. On the contrary, with this publication we are beginning a conversation about what "good and useful" things the present management of Kamchatrybvod has already managed to do in the 2001 fishing season, what kind of people have now come to power, and how this will ultimately play out and what it will cost all of us living on the peninsula.
Sergey Ivanovich Vakhrin
September 23, 2001
 
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