Tugur River, RUSSIA

Tugur Nears Source to Sea Protection

This winter, the governor of Khabarovsk announced that his administration would begin the creation of a new one-million-acre nature reserve stretching across the middle and upper section of the Tugur River. That reserve would mark the final piece of the conservation puzzle in a decade-long drive to protect the world’s greatest stronghold for Siberian taimen: salmon’s long-lived, oversized, ancient cousin.

The Tugur is gaining increasing notoriety worldwide, after fly fishermen caught and released a world record 108-pound taimen this winter—a mark of the watershed’s unmatched productivity. Unfortunately, its virgin larch, Korean pine, and spruce forests are highly sought by Chinese-backed logging ventures in the region.

But thanks to a partnership between Wild Salmon Center and Khabarovsk Wildlife Foundation, and to the work of local sportfish lodge owner Alexander Abramov, conservation measures long in the works are now falling into place. In 2014, Khabarovsk Wildlife Foundation, led by Alexander Kulikov, secured a 197,000-acre protected area across a key section of the lower river. Joint river patrols by Abramov and local government inspectors have brought illegal poaching and mining activity under control. Poaching had reduced chum salmon populations to dangerous levels, affecting the taimen, which feed on adult chum, as well as grayling and lenok, as soon as they are big enough to swallow the prey fish whole. Those marine nutrients fuel taimen’s record growth on the Tugur.

Within two years, the vastly expanded reserve, to be named after Russian explorer George Middendorf, will secure the river’s midsection and several headwater streams. It will give taimen and salmon a protected corridor from spawning grounds virtually to the sea. Logging will be prohibited. And new protections will give further refuge to more than 20 species of fish as well as brown bears, reindeer, osprey, Manchurian elk, Steller’s sea lions, and Steller’s sea eagles.

“Once this reserve is in place, the Tugur will be a salmon conservation success,” says WSC CEO Guido Rahr. “True to the stronghold strategy, we’ve helped our partners head off destruction. The future looks hopeful for the Tugur, the most vibrant ecosystem left in the Russian Far East.”

Below: Alexander Abramov and WSC’s Mariusz Wroblewski on the Tugur River (Guido Rhar). Bottom: Dr. Mikhail Skopets (Guido Rahr). Top: Tugur River (Guido Rahr).

Catch and Release Advances in Russia

Will catch-and-release fishing become an accepted practice in Russia? We’re going to find out. Right now, fly anglers are a rare breed among Russian fishermen and women—maybe one or two thousand in a country of 145 million. But at the urging of our partners at the Russian Salmon Association, last year the Russian parliament recognized catch-and-release as an official recreational fishing category.

Now, RSA leaders are launching a new campaign to explain the benefits—and the sheer joy—of catching wild fish on a fly. They have ambitious plans for blitzing airwaves and hosting promotional events. WSC is partnering with RSA’s campaign on multiple fronts: helping to produce educational films and brochures, and enlisting experts like Dr. Mikhail Skopets (pictured here) to develop federal guidelines and new science. The goal is to take pressure off taimen and other long-lived wild fish species, as well as build a stronger conservation ethic among Russia’s legions of fishermen and women.

“Our sport fishing members have been practicing catch-and-release for a long time,” says Gennady Zharkov, RSA advisory board chairman. “They have a huge practical knowledge that it does protect fish populations.”

Next Up: FISHERIES

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