The fishing industry in the polar region
Prospects and pitfalls2 may 2023
In 2022, fishermen in the Arkhangelsk Region caught 95,000 tons of fish. The region's governor, Alexander Tsybulsky, proudly wrote about it in his Telegram channel. 'Mostly cod, haddock, halibut, redfish, wolffish, flounder and pollack. The region's enterprises are implementing investment projects and continue to build modern vessels: trawlers-processors, longliners and crab vessels,' he stressed in his report.
This year, the regional capital, Arkhangelsk, will host an international conference on water preservation in the Arctic to discuss the protection of the Arctic Ocean ecosystem, climate change and prospects for the fisheries industry in the Arctic Ocean.
Can't go fishing, wait
Industrial fishing in Arctic waters has until recently been under a temporary ban—in 2015, most countries in the Arctic region concluded a series of agreements to limit unregulated fishing and then imposed a moratorium on the harvesting of biological resources in the Arctic Ocean. The main reason was the fear that fishing could cause irreparable damage to the Arctic ecosystem, as precedents had already been set. Just think of whaling, which has all but wiped out some marine mammal species. Thus, by 19 February 1986, when commercial whaling was officially banned worldwide, the giant blue whale was listed as endangered in the Red List, and the bowhead whale was nearly extinct in European waters... Today, the numbers of these marine mammals are increasing, but they remain far below, say, the numbers of the early 20th century..
After several years of research, however, it turned out that fishing in Arctic waters could be resumed. Global warming has stimulated the migration of various fish species above 70–75 degrees north latitude, with a number of species showing explosive increases in numbers (for example, Arctic Russia previously reported on the Arctic crab invasion). It is expected that these processes will enable substantial amounts of fish to be caught without harming the environment. And this translates into a gradual increase in quotas for fishing companies. Today, the Russian fishing industry in the Arctic, and with it, the entire related industrial sector, is undergoing major changes.
Go fishing, can't wait
According to the Federal Agency for Fisheries, the Northern Fishery Basin brought in about 500,000 tons of fish in 2022, and vessels are being hastily built and launched for Arctic companies. In April 2023, the modernised crab trawler Murman-2 was commissioned and will set sail for the Barents Sea to catch seafood delicacies. Notably, it was worked on by Antey-Sever, an AZRF resident company. In addition to re-equipping vessels, it is actively involved in the development of coastal fish processing infrastructure—the latter, unfortunately, gave up considerably over the 1990s along the entire Arctic coast.
'We have ambitious joint plans to modernise and create a modern onshore processing facility at the fish port,' NIA-Federation quoted Andrey Chibis, Governor of Murmansk Region, as saying.
And from the fishermen's point of view, there is an urgent problem of underdevelopment of the Arctic waters. For example, Andrey Semushin, Head of the Northern Division of the Polar Branch of VNIRO, spoke about this in 2020. He stressed in his comment to RG that in the White Sea, the quota for navaga and White Sea herring was fulfilled to only 10–20% of the total volume.
'The main reasons for the under-exploitation of reserves are the destruction of onshore fishing infrastructure, the low cost of raw materials and archaic methods of fishing,' said the head of the unit.»
In the past three years, of course, much has been done, including new Arctic-class vessels, construction of ports and fish-processing plants has begun, but there is still huge room for new investment projects.
The optimism of entrepreneurs and industrialists is, as always, clashed with the caution of scientists and environmentalists. On the margins of the international conference in Arkhangelsk, there will be a variety of opinions, some of which call for a slow increase in fishing quotas. According to Mikhail Flint, head of the Ocean Ecology research area at the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, global warming has increased the biodiversity of Arctic waters while threatening the survival of young fish and the saturation of their food supply. In a comment to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, he stressed that the current cod stock is already down by about 20% to 566,800 tons. By comparison, the Russian quota for this fish in 2023 is 248,800 tons.
The bottom line is that there is not yet a common understanding of the future of Arctic fisheries. The rebirth and development of the fishing industry in the polar region, which could become a powerful development driver for the economy of the whole country and provide tens of thousands of people with decent jobs, must be in line with the fragile ecosystem of the Arctic and must not be detrimental to it. This is why the upcoming meeting in Arkhangelsk is an extremely important event where government officials, scientists, entrepreneurs and environmentalists will try to reach a consensus in this difficult situation.
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