New Partnerships for Sustainable Fisheries in RussiaNews & Program Updates
Notes from the Field: Sakhalin, Russia
WSC Sustainable Fisheries & Markets Program Manager Brian Caouette brings progressive fishermen and seafood buyers to the table to improve salmon management in Russia
As we sat around a table covered with red caviar, black bread and ice cold vodka, I took stock of the people in the room: three seafood buyers, two salmon conservationists, and a pair of burley Russian salmon fishermen. And while we made our obligatory Russian toasts to the guests, wild salmon, and international friendship, I was reminded that though we may come from totally different worlds, these strange bedfellows have something in common. We all have an abiding interest in abundant, healthy, and productive salmon fisheries. But how can we overcome the challenges of different language, culture, work and politics to achieve the common goal of self sustaining, diverse wild populations of Pacific salmon? That is the one of the many challenges we face and why we organized a trip to Sakhalin to connect Russian fishing companies with international seafood buyers committed to sourcing sustainable seafood.
Among those companies participating in our tour were The Fishin' Company (one of the largest salmon buyers globally), Birdseye Igloo (a major European seafood buyer) and Icelandic USA (a key supplier for the food service industry). All of these companies have committed to varying levels of sustainability and are currently sourcing MSC certified seafood products. Our primary goal with these companies: utilize their interest in sustainability in order to help nudge Russian salmon fisheries towards best practices and away from the unsustainable fishing that is threatening salmon runs across the Russian Far East.
The buyers spent a couple of days with us and our partner Howard Johnson from Sustainable Fisheries Partnership in the Aniva Bay region in Southern Sakhalin. They were introduced to several of Sakhalin's largest salmon fishing operations, took part in an active trap net fishery, and toured two processing plants. One of the main issues that kept surfacing with buyers was how difficult it would be to source from the Russian market due to lack of infrastructure. Russian salmon are top quality and many salmon stocks from Russia are in good shape, but without the processing and transport capacity, high quality and sustainable sources of salmon cannot reach the markets where they are most valued. Under these circumstances, something as simple as a lack of freezer capacity has proven to be a major barrier to sustainable salmon fisheries in Russia.
As part of reaching out towards new partners, the Sakhalin Salmon Initiative (SSI) Center--our local partners on Sakhalin--coordinated a meeting between the buyers, the Sakhalin Regional Administration, and a private fishing company, JSC Gidrostroy. Gidrostroy is slated to be the first fishery in Russia to be awarded the coveted MSC logo for sustainable fisheries. One of the industry leaders in Russia, their recent efforts around certification offer insight for those that follow. One important take-home message: the costs of sustainability are not small, but neither are the benefits.
The SSI Center also provided buyers an update on the additional MSC certification work that is happening on Sakhalin. In addition to JSC Gidrostroy, four regions on Sakhalin have now entered the sustainability pipeline, completed a MSC pre assessment, and are currently planning to enter full MSC assessment in early 2010. But the next step towards certification is a big one--the development of an MSC action plan for each region that will assemble relevant datasets, identify data gaps, and make recommendations for future corrective actions that may be necessary for certification. We will need all key stakeholders at the table, including our partners in the government and private sector, to make this next advance towards sustainability.