Call For State Caviar Monopoly

Viktor Kazantsev, presidential representative for the North Caucasus Federal District, has proposed to the State Fisheries Committee that a state monopoly should be introduced on the export and processing of black caviar from 2001.

Vladimir Izmailov, deputy chairman of the committee, said the committee fully supports the proposal and has already prepared and submitted the corresponding draft resolution to the government.

In addition, it is proposed that industry quotas on sturgeon catches will be revoked.

Izmailov said the fisheries scientific-industrial board plans to push through this decision at a coming meeting of an intergovernmental committee that includes representatives of the fishing sectors of Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

While market participants are open to the creation of a state caviar monopoly, they oppose the cancellation of quotas, arguing that fish resources should simply be better protected from poachers.

According to the Caspian fishery research institute, 10,000 tons of sturgeon were poached in the north Caspian basin this year. The official catch of Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan combined came to 700 tons this year.

A joint Russian-Ukrainian committee is to determine fishing quotas for next year. It is anticipated quotas will be kept at 2000 levels, with Russias limit in the region of 300 tons. Russias official catch was about 220 tons.

"A state monopoly must be organized: Today those who should be catching the poachers are working with them," said Pavel Veschev, a leading specialist with the Caspian research institute. "No one controls the Caspian. This problem can only be tackled if we have one boss the state."

For this reason, exporters do not object to the introduction of a state monopoly, though they understand it will spell the end of their businesses.

"Under a state monopoly firms that previously made their money exporting caviar will have nothing," said Valery Paltsev, deputy general director of Kaspriba, one of the nations biggest caviar exporters. "Therefore, as a businessman I am against it. As a fisherman, however, I am for it."

However, other fishermen say revoking quotas is unnecessary.

Vyacheslav Mironov, general director of the Astrakhan company Russkaya Ikra, said the Caspian research institutes estimate of how much is poached is on the low side: In actual fact, 15,000 tons of sturgeon were poached in the Northern Caspian this year.

"And if the poachers are catching that much then it means there are fish to be caught," Mironov said. "They are simply badly protected."

Paltsev said the fishery protection bodies arrest only two or three poachers a year.

In Iran poachers are sometimes executed, while local surveillance bodies have the authority to shoot at them.

"We are a democratic country, of course, and cant take such severe measures," Paltsev said. "But we must be more decisive in our struggle with poachers."

Not everyone thinks Kazantsevs proposal will be effective.

One of Kazantsevs assistants, Konstantin Khagush, said the presidential representative proposed that after the introduction of a state monopoly on production and export of black caviar the "functions of the border guards, the State Fisheries Committee and the Interior Ministry would be clarified."

"They should first provide protection at sea, then concentrate on allowing the fish to increase and, finally, focus on catching the poached goods on land," Khagush said. "Otherwise there will be duplication."

He said Kazantsevs proposal would be sent to the government and the Security Council at the start of December.

The Federal Border Service said the departments functions are clear as it is.

"Its just that the Interior Ministry and the fisheries committee are poking their noses into other peoples business their memories are bad," said a representative of the department for protecting marine bio-resources with the Federal Border Service, who wished to remain anonymous. The World Wide Fund for Nature