“The State Fisheries Committee is going to
shower Kamchatka with “sea beef”

(Interview with the correspondent of Vesty and
the president of the Northern Pacific Fund Sergei Vakhrin)
Vesty: Sergei Ivanovich, your Fund brought up a proposal for discussion to hold referendum on the peninsular on the issue of fish industry. Do you believe that referendum can change the situation with fish auctions, if the Russian government neither responds to tearful entreaties of regions governors to provide limits nor it reacts to the Federation Council?..
S.V.: We did it, as we consider this issue to be complicated and requires thorough study. Remember the year 2000, when environmentalists gathered millions of signatures needed to hold referendum, but nothing came out of it by different reasons. The referendum to keep integrity of the former USSR was a mere pageantry…
Itís quite another matter, but people in Kamchatka donít have another way to show their will, the will of a Federation subject. Itís true that decision of the Federation Council has been ignored. They donít also consider governorsí opinions. Itís true that appeals of the Regional Council deputies return to the addressers with formal replies. Itís true that claims of the Far Eastern fishermen to courts of different instances produce no positive results, and strikes are fully ignored. Yes, itís true, and the government has its own accounts (and, perhaps, it may be formally right).
At the same time the RFís Constitution provides mutual management of marine resources of the continental shelf and the economic zone of Russia by the Federation and a federation subject. The outermost will of a Federation subject is expressed at referendum.
Where does this will lie in?
Although … there is one big “BUT”. Fish auctions (according to Herman Gref, Minister of Trade and Economic Development) were introduced only because officials “AT THE LOCAL LEVEL” ó in the State Fisheries Department and in Fishery Committees made a profit out of resource allocation and allegedly these license auctions were brought in to stop corruption in fisheries.
We should admit that Grefís words about corruption are quite true. Many fishermen complained of the State Fisheries Committee fleecing them, of large bribes that people had to give to buy extra quotas. Many of them sighed with relief when first auctions were over ó final prices for crabs or roe pollock were much less than those set by the thievish Committee for its fishermen. It was 2002 when seamen realized a true guile of auction organizes, with prices shot up to the skies (while the upper threshold of profitability was 200 dollars for a ton, they had to buy them at 600-650 dollars, or just gaze at those who could afford it). Therefore fishermen who covertly lobbied auctions are now defeated.
Nevertheless the defeated understand that rights to quota allocation they may get back are, as folks say: “… a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea”.
As for local quota allocation, it should be changed somehow.
The former as well as the present administration in Kamchatka claimed basic principles of quota allocation ó the tax basis, jobs, participation in programmes of socio-economic development and so on, though the main principle of allocation was the will and caprice of the administration that turned it into the maxim “ITíS GONNA BE AS I WISH”. This probably explains why quota allocation contests in Kamchatka have turned into auctions: they put up (no matter whom, if only paid more) Ozernaya sock-eye salmon, Okhotsk Sea pollock, cod out of those very commercial quotas to pay taxes, salary, etc.
How can Kamchatka possibly receive taxes from “Alkon”, which bought out the lionís share of Ozernaya sock-eye salmon, if it is not even registered in Kamchatka?
What tax basis can “Kamchatrybtrawlflot”, “Bolsheretskoye, Ltd.”, “Friga” have, if in 2000 they didnít catch Okhotsk Sea pollock at all, but in 2002 received quotas even more than “traditional fishing enterprises”?
That is why, fish resources can be restituted to regions only in case, if the quota allocation system is radically changed. “SHOULD QUOTAS BE ALLOCATED BY FISHERMEN THEMSELVES?” FOR. AGAINST. ABSTAIN.
And thirdly, no matter how perfect the local quota allocation system might by, it will never be fair for all. That is self-evident. All cannot be pleased.
Therefore the government can and even should have a right (as it used to have through the State Fisheries Committee or the Ministry of Economic Development) for its own quota of resources (for auctions, government works, against Moscow Patriarchate or “Natsrybresoursy”, to build fishing boats or to realize some state projects and programmes). The question is: what FIXED ratio of this quota should there be to the quota allotted to carry out economic activities in a certain fishing region, say in Kamchatka or Primorye?
Thatís how we see it. But I underline that this is submitted for discussion, and later it will be clear. Perhaps, if the government changes its policy, we will never have to hold it…
Vesty: What is your projection for the future development? Do you believe that the government is likely to change its policy and everything will fall back to its place?
S.V.: Even if it does and stops auctions in a way they exist at present or abolishes them at all, nothing is going to fall back to its place. You canít step in the same river twice ó events follow each other, the life changes. I have already mentioned that here in Kamchatka we have our own auctions held evenly and it will be quite the same, irrespective of a governmentís decision…
BECAUSE, and everyone recognizes it, Kamchatka has embarked on experimental course of development. We know what outcome it has had only in fish industry ó the basis of our economy (in others it remains to be seen). The 2002 results of quota allocation revealed that almost all regions of the Far East “pinched off” from Kamchatkaís quotas. It reminds me a flock of pigeons ó the weakest “gets” it all. Itís unbelievable but while the governor of Kamchatka region is entreating Gref and Kasyanov to give extra quotas, we turned out to have lost (if take commercial quotas in a percentage ratio to other regions) ELEVEN THOUSAND TONS ó more than most of “traditional fishing enterprises” ó Akros or Lenin Collective Farm.
Although we have the largest quota for bullheads ó 46 per cent of a share of the whole Far East, i.e. more than 20 thousand tons. We have no idea what we will do with this sea “beef”. If we add to it shark fins and skate tails, then there would be no end of tourists, and tourism would suggest itself instead of fish industry. Eventually Kamchatka would thrive on fish delicacies that have been allotted to us “FROM THE HEART”. And where is it do you think ó in that very “prairie” (PETROPAVLOVSK-KOMANDORSKAYA SUBAREA), which the president promised to make it almost our own property. It all came true ó and now here in Petropavlovsk-Komandorskaya subarea all bullheads are our property. Catch them and be happy! All other quotas we share with our neighbors (and did it almost fairly like with Okhotsk Sea pollock). And it happens in OUR OWN “prairie”!
They also gave us about 60 thousand tons of capelin. Itís good for food but not for FISHERIES. Now happy fish producers will drive all their workers to the coast with landing-nets to work out these quotas, which were donated generously by the State Fisheries Committee in the person of its chairman and a member of the Board, whose decision taken at the regional level about quotas allocation, according to local press, was the only one that passed and was singed in Moscow IMPLICITLY (in contrast to Sakhalin and Primorye ó the region is still combating Nazdratenko for extra limits). To be just, there was a reference to Kamchatka Fishing Council ó but what sort of council is it, if it advised to take decision on bullheads fishing in Petropavlovsk-Komandorskaya subarea, on eleven thousand tons of roe pollock that should be given to Primorye, on sharing its cod and flounder limits to snatch the lionís share of quotas for bullheads, sharks and rays fishing.
Though the story hasnít finished yet. Many mass media of the peninsular are speaking about “expansion of Primorye”. Only a lazy-bones keeps silence on the matter of redistribution of fish industry property. Kamchatka took initiative on withdrawal of its large capacity fleet outside Russiaís economic zone.
Therefore nothing will fall back into place, even positive results of referendum (I mean, even if the positive voting would be supported at governmental level) can be interpreted locally not in its favor, as we can see it by example of quotas allocation or their attitude to the old fishing “guards”.
Vesty: You seem donít believe that referendum even with positive voting may avail Kamchatka.
S.V.: Strange things are happening in Kamchatka. We are divided into two uneven parts; one is forced to play somebodyís unfair game. They resort to threats, intrigue, lie and mass media, as well as to black P.R. shows to discredit the FISHERMAN in the eyes of Kamchatka people. That very fisherman, who SUPPORTS Kamchatka.
Why? To clear the way with our own hands for those, who yearns to see collapse of Kamchatkaís fish industry and not only Kamchatkaís but also of the whole Far East. Kamchatka is an easy target. We have nothing but fish. If the fish industry is destroyed, weíll have to leave the peninsular, as absolute majority directly or indirectly relate to fishermen.
Ruining of fish industry is a sure fact. The shooting up of price for pollock that exceeded the threshold of profitability threefold witnesses to one thing only ó they donít count money to destroy Russian fishing companies. It makes sense ó it will be easy to take fish for nothing, when the former masters have nothing but rods.
Even if the government changes its policy and passes decision in accordance with the national defense doctrine on protection of its Far Eastern areas and fostering economic development in Kamchatka, perhaps, only under condition that it gets a priority to exploit bioresources of adjoining seas, Kamchatka may experience some troubles like Primorsky region has partially had: large businesses went bankrupt, the rest ó became partly criminalized, some subsist, some do not belong to Russia any longer…
Therefore the first thing we should do to save our home is to start putting the fire out, but not blowing it. The idea about referendum is good also because it unites inhabitants of Kamchatka, from the governor, who has to beg for fish quotas in Moscow, to all of us who lives on the peninsular, thus eliminating the dangerous opposition we all take, or, at least, slackening tension.
If we cannot make order in our home, how can we possibly hold referendum throughout Kamchatka? By summer the economic effect of most important fish expeditions of fishing companies will have shown (under disguise of struggle with corruption in the State Fisheries Committee and at the local level) what fish auctions have actually resulted in for us. If last year economic losses were great but they were redistributed at the expense of profits from other items, then this year itís going to be more serious (as other items are included into auctions ó the same herring, for example). A foreign share (after realization of auction quotas) may not increase considerably in comparison with 26 per cent in 2001 (as auction prices were really too high, i.e. deliberately overpriced), but it may become absolute in 2003, as we may lose our competitiveness or any significance, if any.
By fall (after salmon fisheries), we suppose, there will have been real premises for referendum ó and authorities, and people (including its passive constituency ó fishermen) will understand that they need more radical actions to save Kamchatka, to be precise ó it will be necessary to express our common will.
Of course, Putinís intention to hold a regular meeting on issues of the fishing regions is raising hopes for happy end in somebodyís breast. Although same people who defend fish auctions with might and main will assist him in preparation to the meeting. So, our last hope for Moscow's mercy may vanish. Then only referendum…
Vesty: Or start packing things…
S.V.: For those who have a place to go. Others can do nothing.
Vesty Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky