Monday
Jul282008

“Test fishing” loophole a cover for commercial caviar trade

The Russian government should clearly set the limits for "test fishing" of Kaluga Sturgeons finds a TRAFFIC report Click photo to enlarge © WWF-Russia   Cambridge, UK, 28 July 2008—A report into Amur River sturgeons finds that “test fishing”, a system established with the aim of sturgeon population monitoring, is used as a cover for commercial fishing to circumvent an official ban on commercial fishing imposed in 1984.

The report, Siberia’s black gold: Harvest and trade in Amur River sturgeons in the Russian Federation was released shortly after the Secretariat of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), published 2008 caviar export quotas for Amur River sturgeons, despite serious concerns over the levels of over-exploitation and illegal fishing.

“It is critical the Russian government defines ‘test fishing’ and clearly sets its limits,” urged Alexey Vaisman, Senior Programme Officer with TRAFFIC Europe, based in Moscow and a lead author of the report.

For example, in 2002, a maximum of around 800 kg of Amur River sturgeon caviar could have been harvested legally based on the Total Allowable Catch approved for “test fishing”. However, the total quantity receiving official veterinary certification was 2173 kg, more than 2.5 times that figure.

The TRAFFIC and WWF investigation into the Amur River sturgeon caviar trade found evidence of corruption, illegal fishing and exploitation of the “test fishing” loophole. Historically, sturgeons were an important economic resource in the Amur region, and two species, Kaluga and Amur Sturgeons are endemic to the Amur River, which forms part of the Sino-Russian border. Surveys and interviews with local residents in the Russian Far East, carried out between 2000 and 2004, found that numbers of sturgeons caught had declined markedly, and the average weight of individual fish was decreasing—a sure sign of over-fishing.

There are also problems with existing legislation. In domestic markets, sturgeon products need to be accompanied only by documents that confirm their conformity with sanitary requirements and quality standards. No documents are required to show that the sturgeon products were legally acquired.

“Current legislation regulating the catch and use of sturgeon and caviar is inadequate and complex, leaving loopholes that allow illegal trade to thrive,” said Vaisman.

As well as illegal harvest in Russia, the report also documents illegal trade in Amur Sturgeon caviar across the Amur River from Russia into China, from where it is believed to be exported to Japan and the USA. The authors urge the governments of these countries to work together to address the illegal trade in caviar originating in Russia.

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