30 April 2005

Public Summary of the Second Annual Working Meeting

Forum sends statement to US and Russian Lawmakers asking for an International Agreement on Bering Sea Management. Read the Statement. Read statement in Russian.

29 July 2003

Press Advisory: Russian and U.S. Leaders Unite to Avert Collapse of Bering Sea Ecosystem

Marine experts from the U.S. and Russia are coming together to tackle the tough issues they say have been neglected by government agencies

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New York Times : June 27, 2002
By: Sabrina Tavernise

A Violent Death Exposes Fish Piracy in Russia

YUZHNO-SAKHALINSK, Russia -- The ports are quiet in the remote Russian island of Sakhalin, just north of Japan. Fishing boats return home empty. Most canneries stopped operating years ago.

But further out in the waters off the narrow, green island off Russia's eastern coast, boats jockey for position to catch the region's valuable crabs and fish. The catches are destined for Japan, avoiding Russian ports, taxes and fishing quotas.
Vitaly Gamov, a career military man and commander in Russia's border guards, came here in November 2000 to fight that illegal fishing. His mission cost him his life.
In late May, attackers threw three flaming jars of gasoline through his kitchen window. He died from the burns a week later. His wife, Larisa, recently regained consciousness after five skin grafts in a hospital in Japan. Their 14-year old son, Ivan, escaped unharmed.

General Gamov died trying to change the rules in a system that is built on the corrupt compromises between business and the government that have taken hold in Russia in the chaotic decade since the fall of the Soviet Union.

President Vladimir V. Putin says he wants to break those links, but the roots run deep.
Last year Mr. Putin's economics minister insisted on the sale of fishing rights at auctions to get more revenue from the industry and move control of it to Moscow. That infuriated regional governors and fishing companies that until then had fished virtually free.

''Sakhalin has very big poaching problems,'' said Sergei Darkin, governor of the neighboring Primorsky region. ''Gamov fought hard against poaching.''

After the fire, Mr. Putin intervened to send a severely burned General Gamov to a hospital in Japan. Local clinics were not well enough equipped to treat his injuries.
In recent years Russia has lost control of the fishing industry here, as it has of much else. When the government imposed fishing quotas and tried to levy taxes on the profits of Russian fishermen, the fishermen responded by falsifying their records and delivering their catches directly to Japan and South Korea, where the buyers asked no questions.
A 2001 study by the World Wildlife Fund of illegal fishing in the Russian portion of the Bering Sea found evidence of illegal activities at ''virtually all levels'' of the industry.
The report estimates that fishing firms illegally strip $4 billion from the waters each year, ''putting numerous marine species at risk and contributing to the collapse'' of fish supplies.

The Russian border patrol of which General Gamov was a part, impoverished by budget cuts and hampered by widespread corruption, is no match for the rich and powerful industry. One fishing company manager on Sakhalin said border guards would agree to ignore a poacher's boat in return for a $2,500 bribe.
Illegal fishing costs the government about $500 million a year in missed taxes, according to the State Fishing Committee.

Evidence of declining stocks abounds. One Sakhalin crab poacher, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said that in the early 1990's he caught enough to make three selling runs a week to Japan. Last year he made the trip barely once a week.
''We always had poachers, but never in these proportions,'' said the president of the Far East Fishery Association, Vladimir Gorshechnikov. ''I've been in fishing for many years, but even for me this situation is horrifying.''

While stocks shrink and fishing has increased rather than abated, official government figures show a collapse. In 1990, before the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia caught 7.8 million tons of fish. Four years later, official counts had fallen by more than half, to 3.5 million tons.

General Gamov made many enemies after arriving on Sakhalin. He agreed with the Japanese authorities that Russian boats in Japanese ports must tighten reporting on their catches. He set up more control stations at sea. Through his lobbying, the Sakhalin regional prosecutor began investigating 44 Russian fishing vessels flagged in an audit by Japan.

''Gamov created a system that was closing the poaching flows in the direction of Japan,'' said Viktor Fokanov, a fishing company owner in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. ''If you close the flow, poaching disappears. He knew how to do this, and he didn't have far to go.''
In December 2001, President Putin promoted him, making him one of the youngest generals in the Russian military at 39.

The military had been his life. Even as a child growing up in a small town in Kazakhstan, Vitaly Gamov was drawn to the army. His sister, Galina Spiridonova, recalled that he had led his school team to victory in a war game.

Those who knew General Gamov socially said he was outgoing, liked to play the accordion in his spare time, treated his men with respect and worked long hours.
But he rose through the ranks of a system that had been deformed by economic crisis. After the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991, the Russian government could no longer afford to finance its military. Units like his were plunged into poverty. They faced the impossible task of defending Russia's borders without funding.

As living conditions deteriorated, taking bribes was a way to survive. Igor Barabanov, a lieutenant colonel on the Kurile Islands further out in the Pacific, served briefly under General Gamov. He recalled lacking basics, like soap, and fruits and vegetables. Visiting superiors told him to ''find yourself a sponsor.''

''I was supposed to go to local businessmen and ask for financial support,'' said Mr. Barabanov, who now works as a security guard in the Primorsky region. ''It was humiliating. Some of them would just give money. Maybe they had served in the army themselves once. But others would want things in return.''

Mr. Barabanov said that from 1993 to 1996, ''the border was completely open.''
Some officers got rich. Others just got by. General Gamov lived modestly in a third-floor apartment of a nine-story concrete-slab building on a pothole-ridden street in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the island's capital.

His neighbor Yelena Romanova said he did not own a car. He often spent free time among families of the apartment building, most of whom served in the military.
Like others here, Ms. Romanova is still stunned by the general's murder. Digging in a flower bed that adorns the apartment building, she pointed to a tree planted in his honor, and recalled that he had helped her get soil for the small garden.
Most here say criminals from a mid-size fishing firm were to blame, since the murder was clumsy and amateurish, like a warning gone wrong. The authorities have arrested several men believed to be the hired killers but have not answered the question of who hired them.

For General Gamov's sister and family, who live in the southwestern Russian city of Sochi on the Black Sea, his death remains a mystery.

''The last time he came to visit, my brother was reserved,'' said Ms. Spiridonova, the general's sister. ''All of a sudden I realized that he was in danger. I asked what happened. Vitaly just said, 'They wouldn't dare,' and refused to discuss it.''