The Russian Research Institute for Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO) presented a plan for catching more than a hundred thousand tonnes of saithe in the Chukchi Sea in 2020. WWF-Russia specialists believe that the materials presented do not provide a comprehensive assessment of the threats and impact of fishing on the benthic communities.
On April 6, 2020, the Pacific offshoot of VNIRO held a public hearing in Vladivostok on the total allowable catch of marine resources in 2020. The main topic of the hearing was the more than 100,000 tonnes of saithe to be caught in the southern part of the Chukchi Sea.
The saithe or pollack is a relatively new species in this part of the Arctic. In 2014, it was rarely recorded in trawling surveys in coastal waters in the northern Chukchi Sea. But four years later, scientists there observed a significant concentration of adult saithe. The extent of the pollack area further north is most likely due to the warming of the Bering Sea. This process has been observed since 2015, when full-grown swarms of pollack began to invade the formerly inaccessible food-rich waters north of the Bering Strait. In 2020, according to the scientists, the concentration of fish has reached commercial levels.
“The authors of this environmental impact assessment for fisheries only pay attention to the impact on fish stocks,” says Sergey Korostelev, coordinator of the WWF-Russia Programme for Sustainable Marine Fisheries. “At the same time, there is no assessment of the impact of fisheries on other species, their habitats and marine ecosystems in the region. In addition, the EIA does not contain any proposals on fishing gear or on the timeframe for fisheries. In our opinion, such assessments should not be neglected”.
The Bering Strait and the waters of the adjacent seas are unique in geographical and biological terms. Here, on the border of two oceans and continents, there are about 20 million seabirds and hundreds of thousands of mammals. In 2013, experts from parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity identified four marine areas that are important for biodiversity in the region. These areas overlap with the proposed fishing areas.
“The threat to marine ecosystems comes not only from the fisheries operations themselves, but also from the shipping associated with them,” said Sergei Rafanov, director of the Kamchatka regional Eco-Office of WWF-Russia and acting director of the WWF-Russia Sustainable Fisheries Programme. ‘Before the opening of saithe fishing in the Chukchi Sea, it is necessary to draw up and approve amendments to the fisheries rules.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal