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By John Helmer, Moscow

 The new rules-based order.

That’s an expression invented by western politicians for their schemes of Russia warmongering, and for their media, universities and think-tanks to promote the military budgets required.  

In this month’s case of Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian foreign minister  scheming to replace Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in time to win the election eight months away, the expression means her  rules-based order, not anyone else’s rules-based order. Freeland means Ukrainian rules, not Russian rules; US rules, not Venezuelan rules; Canadian court rules, not Chinese court rules;  and most of all, she means Freeland to rule, not Trudeau to rule.

In Moscow, according to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “we saw the attempts to usurp multilateral institutions, erode their interstate character and replace universal norms of international law by a sort of rules-based order. This term hides the desire to invent rules based on the political environment and in the interests of using them as a tool for exerting pressure against targeted states, and very often against their allies.” 

In Russia since January 1, there is a new rules-based order.

It’s for fishing in the domestic rivers and lakes. Millions of amateur and sports fishermen across the country are up in rods and nets, if not up in arms, over what the rules will do to them. They accuse the government in Moscow of privatizing the fish with rules to reserve the choicest fishing spots for affluent angling clubs, hotels, foreign tourist companies,   and other outsiders with money the locals lack. By limiting the amateurs to single-line rods and by prohibiting nets,  the new rules-based order makes sure the fish stay plentiful where the well-heeled fishermen want them, turning everyone else into poachers. In this new rules-based order, poachers are easier to net than fish.

The new rules for amateur and sports fishing were announced late last year by the Russian Federal Agency for Fishery (Rosrybolovstvo);  they took effect from January 1.

The rules continue to require fishermen to obtain licences from the regional branches of Rosrybolovstvo, but the fees have been abolished. On the other hand, fines for breaking the rules have increased.

In the new order, the licences appear to give greater freedom of choice for angling spots – unless the locations have already been awarded to private leaseholders or are reserved by regional authorities for conservation, for later auction, and for the apparatchiki themselves. The daily quotas for the individual catch have been fixed by regional branches of Rosrybolovstvo, and these include outright bans of fish species which are rare and endangered.  For example, the omul (whitefish) of Lake Baikal is now banned.

The year-round ban on the omul catch follows the failure of limited spawning season  bans which were introduced in 2015. For that story, read this

The catch rules vary widely across the country and across fish species. In the Kurgan region, in the Urals, the quota is no more than five kilogrammes of any fish. Further east, in the Altai, up to 10 kg are permitted of roach, carp, pike, perch or crayfish, but no more than 3 trout, 2 salmon. In Krasnoyarsk, there is a limit of 50 crabs; but in Tomsk, Tyumen, Novosibirsk and Omsk regions the crab quota is down to 2 kg. In Khantiy-Mansiysk, the daily catch allowed, counting all fish together, is 30 kg. In Kaliningrad, on the western frontier, the rule says no more than 3 eels, 1 catfish.

Naturally, the catch depends on the fishing tackle. So, even if the quotas look more than ample for a 24-hour period, the likelihood that individual fishermen will be able to land their legal limit has been reduced drastically. That’s because the new law has fixed on fishing-rods (with a limit of 10 hooks per line), and imposed a ban on nets in many areas where they have been traditional since the Soviet era, and before.  

This form of vessel fishing with nets is banned in many regions since January 1. The size, number and type of fishing vessels is also restricted. For details of the fish size, weight and catch quotas by region, and the restrictions on fishing tackle, read this

Andrey Yanshevsky, who writes for Okhotniki.ru, one of the most popular internet publications for hunters and anglers, says it’s good that the new rules represent a long overdue return to the regime of the Soviet era, but he’s also sceptical that this is the aim of Rosrybolovstvo.  “There’s also a small loophole for fans of catching fish at select fishing sites. First, their long-term water lease agreements [privatization] are allowed to be finalized until December 31, 2020. Secondly,  [Rosrybolovstvo] has started pseudo-reserves;  they are rapidly transformed into the fish-conservation areas but they still  take fees from enthusiasts for the opportunity to fish, charging fees from Rb.1,000 rub to Rb.5,000  depending on the region.”

The more fish conserved by the catch quotas, according to Yanshevsky, the better fishing there ought to be for the fishermen. “The introduction of a reasonable rate of catch, as shown by the practice of long ago, is a necessity. The rule is needed as a reference point.”   But Yanshevsky is concerned that so much discretion is allowed to local officials in interpreting the rules and regulating tackle, catch and location that the outcome is unpredictable. “Partially ‘remembered’ rules of the Soviet times, partially specified authority for local legislators have promised free fishing. We need to wait until the end of the year and see how this free fishing will be cut by orders and orders.”

Eduard Klimov,  from  fishnews.ru , a Vladivostok publication, is critical of the lack of uniformity and the potential for abuse of its powers by the regional Rosrybolovstvo branches. “For example, the definition of overfishing, the justification for the fines, actions to be taken when undersized fish are hooked…” About the ban on fishing nets, Klimov says: “The law introduces a ban on the use of such tackle for amateur fishing outside the regions of the North, Siberia and the Far East, but how it will work in practice is still unclear.” He is expecting that Rosrybolovstvo to start amending the new law at the regional level.

“There are pluses and minuses in restricting places for sport fishing,” comments Yevgeny Simonov, director of the national conservation group Rivers Without Boundaries (RWB),  “but it’s not a reform of the system that has been in operation for the past four or five years when every bend of the river had to be licensed to the rich.”

A well-known Tomsk angler, who retired from his mechanical engineering job to write, hunt and fish, is particularly angry at the impact of the rules on pensioners. “The nets are traditional, and they don’t  take many fish; rods take none. The fines are more than pensioners can afford, and so are the bribes the inspectors will demand to look the other way.”

Asked to respond to criticism of favouritism for rich fishermen Rosrybolovstvo is silent, as well as secretive about how it is administering the licence system. The agency prefers to talk about the trade war which US fish processors are currently waging against pollock caught by Russian companies, traded to China for processing, and then re-exported to the US.  In Moscow, Rosrybolovstvo was also asked to say how many licences for domestic fishermen have been issued annually over the past decade, and what the trend in numbers indicate, up or down.  The agency refuses to say. The state statistics agency Rosstat says it doesn’t have these figures, but confirms that Rosrybolovstvo does.

A three-year old report on the Rosrybolovstvo website reveals that in the fareastern Arctic region of Kolymna, on the Sea of Okhotsk, 1,800 local fishermen from eleven indigenous tribes have  received licences to catch about 3,000 river and sea fish landing at about 350 tonnes. The rest of Russia has not been reported by Rosrybolovstvo.

 A brief press notice on industrial fish farm and commercial fishing results was issued last year by the deputy director of Rosrybolovstvo, Vasily Sokolov   . He claimed the tonnage had reached the Soviet-era results for the first time.

Four regional departments were contacted directly and asked for the numbers of licences they issued in recent years, and for their policy on regional application of the ban on nets. Officials at the Moscow region office, plus their counterparts in Magadan and Krasnoyarsk refused to say. The Kaliningrad Rosrybolovtsvo office replied that between 2014 and 2018 no fishing licence fees were collected and no licences issued to anglers. 

Source: http://www.safariexpo.ru/safari/exhibition/

An organizer of last month’s Moscow exposition for hunting and fishing tourism was asked  what statistics the exhibitors have reported on the number of domestic and foreign fishing licences issued. She replied that she has seen no data, and advised asking Rosrybolovstvo. In Siberia fishing clubs and the regional internet media for anglers say they have no statistics. 

Fishmen willing to speak, anonymously, say the complexity of the new system, and the severity of the penalties for violations, mean there is “enormous discretion for local inspectors and the regional branches of Rosryb to decide what’s allowed, and what is not. The big fish that is getting away is corruption. That’s why Rosryb doesn’t want to talk about the details of the new system.”

Philip Owen (right), director of the Russian food trade consultancy Volga Trader, has been advising Volga region governments on promoting fishing tourism to Russia for a decade. “Fishermen choose their destinations to catch BIG FISH.  Carp grow to larger sizes in warm French waters than they do in the UK. Catfish and sturgeon are not found in the UK.  They are bigger than any British fish.  The Nile Perch of Central Africa can grow up to 200 kg. The world’s biggest coarse fish are Thai catfish, found in the Mekong river.  The Thai catfish is close to extinction and fishing has been banned in Thailand and Vietnam.  An unverified specimen was said to weigh 300 kg.  The heaviest officially recorded specimen was 75 kg. The closest equivalent to the Russia Out of Doors offer is Catfish fishing in the Ebro Delta [Spain].  The Volga delta at Astrakhan is far larger than the Ebro.  So is the area north of Saratov where the natural river channel enters the Volgograd reservoir.”

Owen has also identified from British surveys who the likely fishing tourists are. More than 70%, according to one survey, are male; just over half are older than 35; one in six is single. “As 16.3% of the anglers were single, this implies that 44.7% of anglers on holiday are unaccompanied married men.  This strongly suggests that the core market for angling holidays is a second holiday for a well- off married man.  A holiday designed for this sub-segment will attract half the potential market.”

“It follows from this: the holiday will not be closely tied to the school holiday season; the accommodation need not be comfortable (men will tolerate lower grade accommodation) if it can be cheap; cheap beer, a lot of food and pretty waitresses are important ingredients; non-fishing cultural outings should be male orientated – aerospace tours, wild boar hunting for beginners.”

Owen has also recommended that the size of the potential Russian catch is important to international tourists. “The chance of catching the world’s biggest specimen is  a guarantee of a good market.  A world record can be advertised. Alternatively, the chance of an average fisherman catching many decent sized fish is another attraction but it will take longer to establish the market as this needs “word of mouth” to generate sales.  It is difficult to advertise high average catches. To  attract fishermen [to Russia], we have to have at least one of: very large carp; records must be larger than 16kg. Very large or numerous catfish.  I have seen photographs of catfish caught on the middle Volga near Volnya.  The fish look well over 150 kg.  Such fish are world record standard. Unusual (to British fishermen) species of large fish… We need extensive information on record and average catches for the various species of fish near Saratov.  Does the Volga near Saratov hold any records for the biggest fish in Russia?”
Five Russian fisherman land their near-record sized catfish in 2013; no location identified. Source: https://www.bing.com/

In answer to this and other questions, Rosrybolovstvo is as intent on secrecy as British anglers are about their fishing spots. How effective have efforts like Owen’s been to stimulate international fishing tourism to Russia? Rosstat, tourism industry sources and Rosrybolovstvo say they have no figures on how many tourists have been coming to Russia for fishing holidays over the past decade.

NOTE: Almost thirty years ago I did a report on fishing tourism in the Moscow region. This was the story then.

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