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Russian salmon figures don’t add up


East Asian countries are importing between 50% and 90% more Russian sockeye salmon than Russia is reporting as caught, according to a new report from WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.

Analysis of data from officially published sources reveals that from 2003 to 2005, the estimated excess quantity of Russian sockeye salmon entering East Asian markets was between 8,000 and 15,000 tonnes each year, worth US$40–76 million.

“The governments of Russia, Japan, China and South Korea need to tighten up on the Russian salmon trade to distinguish legal from illegal products in the market place and to protect salmon from overfishing,” says Craig Kirkpatrick, TRAFFIC’s East Asia Director.

“The Russian government’s records appear to under-estimate the true catch substantially.”

Possible reasons for the under-estimate include illegal catches or fishermen not reporting fully how much salmon they catch (two components of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported, or IUU, fisheries), or flaws in the government’s reporting system itself.

The report uses mathematical modelling to estimate the discrepancies between the reported catch and import and market data.

“The traded amounts of between 150% and 190% of reported catches compare closely with previous estimates that IUU activities in the Russian Far East are 40–60% above the officially reported catch,” says Shelley Clarke, author of the report.

Japan is the world’s largest importer of salmon and imports around half its frozen sockeye supplies directly from Russia.

China imports very little salmon for its domestic markets, but acts as a major low-cost salmon processing centre, most of it destined for Europe and the United States.

“American salmon consumers should buy salmon that’s traceable to avoid supporting an illegal and harmful industry" said Bubba Cook, senior fisheries officer for WWF’s Bering Sea and Kamchatka programme.

“They should look for salmon products displaying a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label, which certifies the salmon is sustainably caught.”

The report recommends a package of measures to bring the Far East salmon fishery and its market under control. They include:

* stricter government controls on ports and other customs borders
* stopping the transfer of salmon cargoes between vessels at sea
* better cooperation between Russia and East Asian port state control authorities to monitor all vessels operating in Russian waters and to share information on counterfeiting and other import documentation irregularities
* more transparency in the use of bonded warehouse facilities
* stepping up of random cargo inspections
* better labelling and traceability of salmon products

“Governments and consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the traceability of fish products. East Asian suppliers should make it clear where their stock comes from,” says Kirkpatrick, adding that product certification schemes, such as ones operated by the MSCl, would give suppliers a distinct commercial advantage.


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