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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Live Fish Off the Moscow Menu

Mayor Yury Luzhkov is trying to bring some life to the deep-frozen counters of the city's fish stores.

In a recent decree, the mayor gave all of Moscow's fish stores until Tuesday to set up fresh-water pools or aquariums to maintain live fish. But the day came and passed without any reported marketplace sightings of a live fish.

Mayak on Leningradsky Prospekt was typical: Its counters were full to the gill with fish of an earlier vintage, preserved in thick blocks of ice, cans, and other receptacles.

"We used to have live carp this big," said store accountant Vera Lebedeva, stretching out her arms half a meter wide. "We even got fish from Uzbekistan, back when the Union existed."

The two mini pools that accommodated these bounties of the past are still located behind one of the store's counters, but are empty of water, let alone fish.

However, according to Mayor Luzhkov's decree, the store fulfills the latest code regulation, because the pool is in working order.

"It's still too soon; we are waiting for the fish to grow," said Lebedeva, who like most staffers wears a blue smock with a picture of a tall sailing ship on the breast pocket. She said that fresh fish are typically in season from late August to early November and then for a month or two in the spring.

Although Luzhkov can order the city's mostly privatized fish stores to maintain the tanks, it remains to be seen if he can force them to actually keep them stocked with creatures of the deep.

"Demand for fresh fish has fallen in recent years," said Ludmila Kandrina, manager at branch 12 of Okean, the foremost Soviet-era name in fish. "Of course, it's more expensive, which may explain this."

She added that the price for carp is typically half if chopped off from a frozen slab rather than netted from a tile-lined tank.A bureaucrat charged with implementing Moscow's latest effort to engineer the free market admitted confusion when contacted Tuesday.

"I haven't received any concrete proposals on what to do," complained Nadezhda Svedlonskaya, acting head of the city's food merchandise division. "Nothing has been done yet."

A report in the Vechernaya Moskva newspaper Tuesday said that state inspectors have found that almost a third of the capital's 72 fish stores have yet to comply with the latest regulations to maintain fish tanks.

Fishing industry experts say that Russians rarely enjoy fresh fish not because of a lack of fresh tanks but because the country lacks an infrastructure to bring the fish to market. Without a system of boats and farms harvesting fish daily and a transport network to speed the fish reliably to market, tanks in stores are fairly useless.

In many countries, trawlers bring fresh fish into port and then airplanes race the goods into supermarkets across the country. In Russia, the fishing industry is geared toward quantity, not quality, and many fish are frozen or canned immediately at sea.