The Union of Fishermen of the North catches more than 40 per cent of Russia's quota for cod and haddock in the Barents Sea.
Photo: WWF Russia
Sustainable fishing methods to protect the Barents Sea
WWF Russia has long worked with fishers in the Barents Sea to reduce the impact of bottom trawling. The idea is to find solutions that both protect the marine ecosystem and are profitable for the fishers. Support from Sida has made it possible to intensify the work, and fishers have now signed an important agreement on sustainable fishing methods.
The Barents Sea has one of Europe's largest clean and relatively undisturbed marine ecosystems. Maintaining this is a prerequisite for all future life along the coast. But the sea is threatened, among other things, by bottom trawling, which means that a trawl net attached to wires is pulled across the seabed. This mainly occurs in large-scale fishing and irreparably disrupts sensitive ecosystems, including bottom-dwelling animal life.
According to Konstantin Zgurovsky at WWF Russia, 80 per cent of Russian fishers use bottom trawling. For several years, WWF has worked with fisheries to change their methods and make them aware of how they can help to preserve sensitive ecosystems. This also helps to make fishing more profitable in the long term. When important habitats are preserved, there are better conditions for reproduction and the protection of fish that are not fully grown.
“We're working out solutions that benefit both the environment and the fishers. We see them as partners. Without their participation, it is impossible to get anywhere since changes are necessary to the way fishing is done and to financing on a scale which is only possible for major companies or organisations,” says Konstantin Zgurovsky.
Important agreement signed
This work has now produced results. WWF Russia and the Union of Fishermen of the North (FIUN) recently signed an agreement confirming the fishers’ willingness to develop sustainable fishing methods and preserve the marine ecosystem in the Barents Sea. FIUN is an important partner since it catches more than 40 per cent of Russia's quota for cod and haddock in the Barents Sea.
Together with three other major groups of fisheries, FIUN has formed a committee. Its purpose is to improve the coordination of financing and together become better at identifying and preserving vulnerable marine ecosystems. Part of the committee's resources is used for research and experiments to improve fishing gear. They also collect data on bycatches of bottom organisms according to WWF guidelines. This can reduce the impact of bottom trawling by 80 per cent.
“This is unique. It is the first time that a majority of Russian fishers in the Barents Sea have come together to protect nature and improve their fishing methods,” says Konstantin Zgurovsky.”
Sergei Nesvetov is CEO of JSC Arkhangelsk Trawl Fleet, which is a member of the coordination committee. He points out that the marine environment and fish stocks are the foundation of their business activities.
“We believe that cooperation with environmental organisations and other stakeholders leads to more positive results than distrust and isolation.”
Action plan and practical solutions
Together with WWF, fisheries have also produced an action plan for securing their income in the long term, while also protecting the marine ecosystems. This requires their fishers to refrain from fishing in vulnerable marine ecosystems that they themselves will help to identify. According to Konstantin Zgurovsky, this could mean the protection of at least 30 per cent of these ecosystems and the modernisation of bottom trawling so that it causes less damage.
“WWF has long worked with fishers to win their trust and resolve problems in a positive way. Creating dialogue with those who actually work on fishing vessels makes it possible to find the best and most practical solutions,” says Konstantin Zgurovsky.
Sida’s focus on popular participation
Sida's new cooperation strategy for Russia has an important objective of contributing to a better environment, and since 2016 WWF Russia has received support from Sida to increase popular participation in the management of natural resources.
“It's about getting fishers to know the ecosystems they interact with. Do they need protecting? How much is it sustainable to fish? The red thread is popular participation, from civil society organisations and local fishers. Many people have a lot of knowledge, and it also facilitates implementation if people are on board with the decisions that have been made,” says Anna Tufvesson, Sida's programme officer for the support to WWF Russia.
WWF Russia has long been involved in Barents Sea fishing. Thanks to financing from Sida, it has been possible to intensify the work considerably in 2016, the agreement with FIUN has been brought about and the coordination committee has been established. The support from Sida has also allowed WWF Russia to develop practical tools and train the crews of fishing vessels.