Baku, Azerbaijan, December 19 / Trend /
Ellada Khankishiyeva, Trend Analytical Center Head
The keynote of all the discussions and negotiations at the 32nd session of the Commission on Aquatic Bio resources of the Caspian Sea in Baku on December 14-15 was the problem of catching sturgeon in the Caspian Sea. It should be noted that as a result of the widespread prosperity of poaching in the Caspian littoral states, the sturgeon population has begun to decline sharply. According to the West's experts from various environmental organisations, the sturgeon may disappear.
At present, the Caspian states - Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have a one-year moratorium on sturgeon fishing. For the first time, Kazakhstan made this proposal on the moratorium at the Baku summit, held on November 18, 2010. Other Caspian countries supported the proposal. A directive was made to develop a mechanism for imposing a moratorium on sturgeon fishing.
According to Azerbaijani Deputy Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Rauf Hajiyev, the current state of sturgeon stocks is assessed as critical. "There is the issue of imposing a total ban on their commercial fishing," he said. "Only adopting these measures for the next five to10 years will halt the decline in the number of valuable fish species and create conditions to form a new legal regime to use them on a long-term sustainable basis."
However, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora CITES (CITES) never tires of blaming the Caspian littoral countries of failing to put an end to large-scale poaching in the Caspian Sea. There was such a large volume of illegal fishing that CITES experts have found it difficult to assess it in order to calculate new production quotas, allowing the maintenance of the sturgeon shoals on the basis of the data.
The illegal production of black caviar is widespread. According to statistics of the Russian law enforcement agencies, poaching in the Russian caviar market is as high as 90 per cent. According to the most modest estimates, Russia's economy loses annually at least $500 million from the sale of illegal fish products. Unfortunately, the data on Azerbaijan is unknown.
Intensified hydrocarbon production in the offshore oil fields significantly contributes to reduce the sturgeon population and in general worsen the environmental situation in the Caspian Sea. However, one should remember that if the world price of a barrel of oil is slightly more than $100, 1 kilogramme of black sturgeon caviar in the world reaches on the average $1000-$5000. It should be noted that the environmental tension in the Caspian Sea and the loss of budget of the surrounding countries becomes more evident.
Given this situation, world environment specialists propose to eradicate poaching in the Caspian Sea and impose a moratorium on sturgeon fishing by limiting the research objectives, to strengthen the work on sturgeon breeding and to organise the periodic monitoring to comply with the obligations taken by the littoral countries with the world environment specialists.
Azerbaijan overall supports a 10-year moratorium on sturgeon fishing in the Caspian Sea as the sturgeon begin laying eggs as late as eight to10 years, Azerbaijani Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Huseyn Bagirov said.
The sturgeon and caviar business in Iran is quite effectively controlled by the state (violation is punishable by sentences up to the death penalty). It proposes to impose a five-year moratorium on sturgeon fishing in the Caspian Sea. This was made by deputy head of the Iran Fisheries Organisation Shilat Ali Askar Mujahideeni at the 32nd meeting.
Mr Mujahideeni said that Iran seriously works to preserve the biological resources of the Caspian Sea. He thinks that the Caspian countries must act together to increase fish stocks. At present, Iran bans commercial fishing in the Caspian Sea and has also proposed to create special security units to combat illegal fishing in the Caspian littoral countries.