Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

Fishing and indigenous peoples: New regulations for traditional economies

Crowd to the boat's front

2 october 2023

The participants of the high-latitude comprehensive expedition Clean Arctic—Vostok 77 are conducting research on the current state of traditional fishing practices of the Northern peoples to identify regional and territorial differences in the technologies and organisational mechanisms of this industry. TASS reports on this, highlighting that the findings of the researchers are being closely monitored by the deputies and the apparatus of the Russian State Duma. They suggest that there is a pressing need to revise federal legislation pertaining to the traditional economic activities of indigenous peoples.

Researchers will investigate the fishing practices of indigenous peoples across 19 regions of the country, laying the groundwork for legislative regulation of a key aspect of local livelihoods. According to the article Government Regulation of Indigenous Minorities' Fishing in the Arctic, the Nenets in NAA consume between 60 to 300 kg of fish per person annually, and a family of 4–5 people consumes approximately 1 ton of fish per year. The process for accessing water resources is as follows: a community or individual citizen submits an application annually, they are assigned a quota, and then state regulatory bodies oversee the fishing activities. Quotas for various types of aquatic biological resources differ from region to region, based on the current state of local species biodiversity and the needs of local populations. It's important to note that indigenous peoples have the right to fish under special conditions for personal use, but if they wish to engage in commercial activities, entirely different rules apply. There are several challenges that local and federal authorities, as well as the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and other representatives of indigenous communities, have been actively trying to address in recent years.

One such challenge was the procedure for applying for quota allocation. Year after year, a number of families and entire communities were left without the ability to legally fish due to issues related to the application and approval process. Additionally, it was not possible to predict in advance the exact volume of fish that would be permitted for catching. Andrey Metelitsa, the Chairman of the Union of Indigenous Peoples of Kamchatka Territory, outlined the process for quota applications: documents were submitted to the local branch of Rosrybolovstvo, then forwarded to the Commission for Fishery Regulation for review. As the representatives of indigenous peoples are unsure of the exact volume to request in this year's application, they request the maximum allowable catch in hopes of receiving at least some amount. Starting from 2021, there has been ongoing discussion about abolishing quotas for indigenous minorities. This was announced by Ilya Shestakov, the head of Rosrybolovstvo, at the opening of the 2nd Forum of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of Russia. The authorities have decided to drastically simplify the process by removing the requirement for all indigenous peoples to apply for personal fishing needs. The key is to abide by the law and not exceed the established catch limits. In 2022, Ilya Shestakov confirmed that fishing quotas for indigenous peoples would be abolished starting from 2023. However, this does not extend to valuable or rare species of fish.

Yet, in solving one problem, the authorities encountered another—what should be done about members of indigenous families who live in the community but are not listed in the register? Are they permitted to engage in this form of traditional economic activity for personal use? Is the method by which local residents fish important? Veronika Simonova, a Duma Committee expert and doctor of anthropology, noted in her TASS commentary that during the expedition, instances of indigenous peoples deviating from traditional fishing methods were documented. Furthermore, the indigenous peoples themselves wish to be granted permission to conduct commercial activities within the provided quota limits. In a TASS interview, Yulia Yakel, an expert of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North and an honorary lawyer of the Moscow Region Bar Association, proposed the idea of granting communities a catch volume for economic activities. Currently, communities that want to engage in commercial fishing must compete in auctions alongside other market players. Such competition often proves too challenging for local residents, and there are no other income sources besides commercial fishing.

The ongoing expedition aims to clarify these and many other issues by evaluating the actual state of traditional fishing among indigenous minorities. Based on this, conclusions will be drawn that will enable the formulation of amendments to clarify and balance the existing legislation. 

Read more Ecology and fishing: the future of Arctic resource development Outcomes of the International Conference on Bioresources and Fisheries in the Arctic


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