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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fish Quota Plan Riles Regional Governors

Having scrapped fish quota auctions last month, the State Fisheries Committee said Tuesday that it plans to distribute fishing rights to companies proportionally based on their average catch over the last five years -- a move that has only fueled the long-simmering turf battle between regional governors and the federal agency.

"The difference between the auction times and the new system is like [the difference] between a rock and a hard place," said Vyacheslav Zilanov, deputy governor of the Murmansk region, in a telephone interview after the meeting. "Both are bad."

Under the concept aired Tuesday, regional administrations will be able to distribute only 20 percent of quotas, which bestow the right to fish within 12 nautical miles of its shoreline.

The governors had hoped for more control. Partially in hopes of getting more control over the lucrative licenses and partially in defense of fisherman who complained the auctions sapped all their working capital, the governors led the battle against the auctions, which had been used since 2001 to distribute 40 percent of the potential catch.

Regional administrations are responsible for their own economies, so they -- not Moscow -- should control quota distribution, Zilanov said.

Yet most quotas will be distributed by historic ratios by a special commission envisioned to include representatives of regional administrations and fishing associations.

Such a system would effectively block the appearance of new fishing companies. With no catch record to draw on, new firms would have access only to quotas sold on the secondary market by established enterprises.

Some governors at Tuesday's meeting also noted that those companies too cash poor to compete in the auctions will be shut out of the new system.

Vladimir Shevelenko, the deputy governor of the Koryak autonomous region in the Far East, was quoted by Vedomosti as saying that fishermen in his region could hope for only a tiny share of future quotas, depriving the regional budget of substantial revenue.

But reducing governors' right to hand out quotas at their own discretion will reduce corruption, the State Fisheries Committee argued.

"The new system is very transparent. Now every law-abiding fishing company can calculate its own share [of quota rights]," said Sergei Samatov, spokesman for the committee in the telephone interview. "And neither federal, nor regional authorities can affect this share. This is what regional governments hate."

Regions were asked to present suggestions to be reviewed this week by a special commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Gordeyev, Samatov said. The concept is to be approved by the Cabinet in September.

Oleg Kozhemyako, senator in Primorye, a key fishing region, called quota distribution by individuals "absurd."

"Whoever distributes them has their own interests at heart," he was quoted by his spokeswoman Natalya Romanovskaya as saying.

Kozhemyako's idea is for enterprises themselves to prepare an objective mechanism for quota distribution.

"It may be a complex one, but it must be fair," he said, proposing that it take into account the enterprise's support for the community, the presence of northern ethnic minorities and observance of ecological standards.