Human impact, challenges and threats

Challenges of large-scale oil and gas development

Russian shelf, in particular in the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, Chuckchi Sea, Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk contains enormous resources of hydrocarbons. The monitoring of several large scale projects related to the offshore development and transportation of oil and gas was conducted by WWF-Russia. It revealed a rather chaotic approach to the offshore industrial planning. The considered projects include the Sakhalin shelf projects, the development and transportation of hydrocarbons in the Barents and the White Seas, and the proposed projects of pipelines to Murmansk and to Primorye. The activities as a whole are just a combination of coincident technical projects of particular investors lobbied by different stakeholder groups. No Strategic Environmental Assessment has been conducted prior to launching of particular projects, which are competing with one another and are magnifying thus an impact on biodiversity and environment. We are facing now a real boom of the natural gas exploration stimulated by the development of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) technology.

Contribution to the world marine fisheries

In the 1980s the catch of Soviet Union was approaching 10 million mt contributed about 10-12% of the world production of the marine capture fisheries. Currently (1995 – 2002) the reported catch of Russia’s marine capture fisheries ranges between 2.9-3.9 million mt. The national contribution to the world catch decreased up to about 3 %. Russia holds the 7th place in the world fisheries production after such countries as China, Peru, Japan, United States, Chile and Indonesia (Fig. 1).

The role of Russia turns to be greater when considering the impact of the Russian fisheries on particular globally important stocks. Of the top ten species, Russia contributes considerably to the fishery for Alaska Pollock, Atlantic herring, capelin and blue whiting (Fig. 2).

With regard to other species having a distinctive role in the world fisheries and impacting marine ecosystems Russia holds a particular position in the harvesting of cod, Pacific salmon and king crabs (Fig.3). Alaska Pollock for example constitutes 40% of the whitefish imported to Europe as added value products (vs. for example 4% of hoki).

Impact on the High Seas

Russia and Ukraine (the then Soviet Union) have been very active in the High Seas exploration and management in the 1960s – 1980s. Oceanographical expeditions discovered and explored numerous seamounts and hydrothermal vents. Exploratory and commercial fishing was conducted over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Whale Ridge, off Namibia, in the Antarctic, in the southwestern Indian Ocean, at Orange Rouphy and on the Emperor Ridge. The real impact of this fisheries remains largely unknown since few published reports are available.

In the early 1990s Russia largely withdrew from the High Seas but early in the XXI century there was a steady increase of fishing outside the Russia’s EEZ. About 70% of the present marine catch was taken in Russia’s EEZ , the territorial sea and the internal marine waters. However, the effort to obtain the remaining 30% is distributed highly unevenly. Most of the fleet working outside Russia’s waters is based in Murmansk and Arkhangel and works mostly in the North Atlantic. Thus the potential role of Russia in the regional fishery organizations, such as NEAFC is critical not to say about the issues of protecting seamounts.

Ecosystem impact of fisheries

The fisheries practiced in Russia are amongst those which seriously impact the top predators of the oceanic ecosystem, marine mammals and sea birds. Russia still practices large-scale driftnet fisheries in its EEZ allowing both Japanese and Russian fishermen to use drift nets for salmon. According to the estimates of WWF-Russia experts annual mortality of seabirds in the EEZ of Russia in the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk averages about 70,000 specimens, which include several endangered and threatened species. Increasing long-line operations add another one powerful source of seabird mortality, which is now under current analysis and mitigation work of WWF-Russia.

What processes within Russia threaten global marine biodiversity

Several processes related to Russia are linked to actual and potential threats to the global biodiversity. Very rough estimates of the IUU catch exported to Asia Pacific ranges from few per cent of the official catch in plaice to 300% in king crabs. Recently published estimates of the Norwegian directorate for fisheries indicate that the IUU catch of the Barents Sea cod may be as high as one third of the official catch. In the Fisheries management in Russia is formally strong and has not the worse legal framework but is undermined by illegal practices which have a very strong economical background.

Probably the greatest challenge for the fisheries management system in Russia is to develop an effective fishing capacity control. The current reform of Common Fishery Policy in the EU and the reduction of fishing capacity under the flags of the EU countries may easily lead to increasing capacity under the Russian flag. In the current economic situation Russia when the Russian fleet is generally older as the fleets of the EU fishing countries, Russia is a potential importer of the capacity from the EU and an exporter to the High Seas.

In fifteen years the Russian Arctic and the North-western Pacific may undergo a rapid change concomitant to the climate change. We will see the Arctic and the northern boreal seas with reduced sea ice cover, degrading permafrost shores, expanded coastal and offshore infrastructure and massive shipping of oil and LNG. This perspective is clearly insufficiently realized by the national authorities and little is done to develop wise and integrative management approach.

The present economical and administrative situation made difficult establishing new marine protected areas. Even those which are existing being in fact world’s largest system of marine protection – marine mammals protection zones are poorly managed and are about to loose their legal status based on the old Soviet time statute. Even much better managed marine strictly protected reserves face a lack of qualified staff and technical capacity to perform their tasks

When considering all discussed above, it becomes clear that even though the profile of Russia in marine conservation is currently not particularly high, the global WWF marine targets can not be achieved without focusing efforts of WWF as a global conservation organization at the Russian seas.