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Russia calls for sturgeon fishing ban in Caspian

by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) March 27, 2008
Russia on Thursday proposed that Caspian Sea states impose a five-year ban on fishing for sturgeon, prized for its caviar eggs, to save stocks from collapse, a spokesman for the fisheries agency said.

"We are ready to announce a moratorium," said spokesman Alexander Savelyev, adding that Russia would formally propose the ban to the other four Caspian Sea states of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan soon.

"This is because the sturgeon is about to disappear," said Savelyev, adding that Russia was not able to fish its annual quota of 50 tonnes of sturgeon last year because overfishing and poaching had depleted stocks.

The fisheries agency also put forward a draft law on Thursday for the creation of a state monopoly on sturgeon fishing and caviar sales in an effort to stop poaching -- a business worth one billion dollars (634 million euros) a year, Savelyev said.

Poaching is "a ruthless, pitiless business motivated only by profit," he continued. The draft law, which also proposes tax breaks for private sturgeon farms, is set to be examined by parliament in the next few days.

Almost all the world's sturgeon, one of the oldest species of fish, live in the Caspian Sea. Their eggs have been prized as a delicacy for centuries and environmentalists say the fish are heading for extinction.

The international environmental watchdog WWF warned earlier this year that the population of Caspian Sea sturgeon, including the osetra, servruga and beluga species, had fallen by as much as 70 percent in the past few decades.

Almost 12 tonnes of illegal caviar were sold in Europe between 2000 and 2005, according to official data from the European Union. Experts believe that is only a fraction of the caviar poached from the Caspian.

Russian police have stepped up raids on illegal caviar in recent years. In one of the latest incidents, nearly two tonnes of black caviar were confiscated from stores in the Moscow region in August last year.

Russia has also launched a sturgeon breeding programme but says its efforts are being undermined by fishing in other parts of the Caspian Sea and has therefore said any action needs to be taken jointly by Caspian Sea states.

Local scientists at the one of the sturgeon breeding centres in the region of Astrakhan in southern Russia also blame the boom in offshore oil and gas development in the Caspian Sea for depletion of stocks.

"We can keep the population at the same low level but we cannot revive the glory of the Caspian since human activity has a very large impact," Alexander Kitanov, a local scientist, said.

"The sturgeon could disappear from the Caspian Sea just like it has disappeared everywhere else. If it falls out of the food chain, its place will be taken up by other species and it will never be able to return."

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Tuna talks look to cut down on overfishing
Tokyo (AFP) March 26, 2008
Leading tuna consumers and producers met Wednesday to look at how to stop countries breaching quotas as a global fad for Japanese food drives tuna stocks to dangerously low levels.

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