Kamchatka Peninsula, RUSSIA

The Wild Advantage

For more than a decade and a half, Wild Salmon Center’s sustainable fisheries team worked with Russian fishermen in Kamchatka and Sakhalin Island to protect their wild salmon fisheries and raise the value of that catch in the marketplace. Wild salmon stocks, we believed, would be more resilient than hatchery-raised salmon and deliver better long-term value to fishing communities, along with wild ecosystems.

Today, building on years of cooperation with WSC, fishermen in West Kamchatka and Northeast Sakhalin are systematically handling threats to wild salmon fisheries and demonstrating the market value of those fish.

In West Kamchatka, four companies worked with Ocean Outcomes (a spin-off of WSC) and later, U.S.-based 4SeasSolutions, to certify eight regional fisheries through the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). This international certification requires that companies have an established plan to combat caviar poaching in each watershed and a science-based plan to allow enough salmon to return to each watershed before fishing starts. West Kamchatka also remains mostly hatchery-free, and its rivers remain wholly intact, allowing it to continue as the second most productive salmon region on Earth.

In the last five years, West Kamchatka’s salmon fisheries harvests have consistently led the rest of the Russian Far East, with a whopping 378,000 tons in 2019. Kamchatka-based companies earn extra returns on those fish in international markets, because of the MSC label.

On Sakhalin Island, 20 fishing companies have joined with our longtime conservation partner Sakhalin Environment Watch, to form the Wild Salmon Territory, which encompasses 25 river systems on the northeast coast of the island. Each river is covered by anti-poaching controls and a salmon population health assessment developed with Russian Academy of Sciences. This region has also remained hatchery-free, and SEW is expanding protected areas with proposals for the Nabil and Dagi watersheds.

Over the last three seasons, Wild Salmon Territory pink and chum fisheries produced stronger runs than other regions, like the hatchery-dominated Aniva Bay, which was once the breadbasket of the Sakhalin salmon economy.

“Along with Alaska’s Bristol Bay sockeye fishery, these two Russian regions are strong proof to the world of the benefits of wild-only salmon fisheries,” says Mariusz Wroblewski, WSC’s Western Pacific Director.

Below: Dmitry Lisitsyn of Sakhalin Environment Watch on a Dagi River poaching raid (Sakhalin Environment Watch). Bottom: Columbia River pound net (Aaron Jorgenson). Top: Kamchatka fisheries (Mihael Blikshteyn).

Pound Nets Hold Promise

In salmon fisheries across the North Pacific, the race is on for a way to fish both successfully and selectively.

In open water and in river mouths, fish runs intermingle. That means commercial fishermen accidentally catch protected species alongside the abundant wild and hatchery runs they want.

One novel pilot project goes back in time for a forward-looking solution. Pound nets, once ubiquitous on the West Coast, were banned nearly a century ago in Washington and Oregon as too successful. Now, one is back on the Lower Columbia River, managed by the Wild Fish Conservancy and supported by partners including Wild Salmon Center. The net works passively, leading fish into a watery “heart” where each can be identified by sight and then either netted or released, completely untouched.

With the Columbia pound net reporting near-zero mortality for protected species like wild steelhead and Chinook, project partners are now considering the potential for pound nets in other salmon systems, like B.C.’s Dean Channel and the Skeena. The pound net’s comeback adds a promising new “old” tool in the campaign to protect wild salmon.

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