Rosselkhozbank Sets Aside $600M for Fish

Rosselkhozbank has set aside 20 billion rubles ($600 million) for the fishing industry this year, chairman Yury Trushin said Thursday.

"We have reserved 20 billion rubles for fishermen this year. Come and get it," Trushin said at a meeting in Moscow on the development of the country's fishing industry, Interfax reported.

Rosselkhozbank's charter capital was increased 73 percent in February to 106 billion rubles as part of the government's bank bailout plan.

Participants at Thursday's meeting, including First Deputy Minister Viktor Zubkov and representatives from the fishing industry, discussed anti-crisis proposals and the government's long- and short-term goals for strategic development of the fishing sector.

This year, Russia has "undertaken a fairly ambitious plan" to harvest 3.65 million tons of fish and increase the share of domestic fish on the Russian market to 70 percent, said Zubkov, who oversees the agricultural sector for the government. In 2008, Russia harvested 11 percent less, or 3.3 million tons.

"For us to meet this target, it is necessary to develop favorable conditions for fulfilling domestic demand with Russian fish and to more actively tackle the issue of import substitution."

Russia currently imports about 1.1 million tons of fish a year, close to one-third of its own catch. In major cities, imported fish and fish products occupy more than 50 percent of the market. Russia exports 1.3 million tons of fish, leaving only 60 percent of the catch for internal consumption.

Weaning Russia off its dependence on imported fish and other imported foodstuffs has become a pressing issue as a plummeting ruble has pushed up the price of imports.

To help the industry provide enough fish products to substitute the more expensive imports, the government's investment share in coastal infrastructure and fish processing equipment totals 14 billion rubles for 2009, 5 billion more than in 2008.

"To increase our production of fish products, we need to develop modern infrastructure that will facilitate the delivery, reprocessing, storage and transportation of the fish and its sale at acceptable prices," Zubkov said Thursday.

In its 1.6 trillion ruble ($48 billion) anti-crisis package, the government has called for provisions to ensure that fishing companies and producers continue to modernize and have access to credit lines.

Measures include the allocation of 1 billion rubles from the budget to subsidize interest rates on loans for the purchase of new vessels; equipment upgrades and the development of port infrastructure; tax incentives; and subsidies for transportation within Russia.

The Federal Fisheries Agency has already supplemented the government's measures with its own anti-crisis wish list, which will be put up for discussion next week when the government asks the State Duma to approve its plan.