IMAGE IS EVERYTHING, AND FISH IS NOTHING
Kamchatka is in the throes of the latest fishing scandal: the other day, Kamchatrybvod, a unit of the State Fisheries Committee, noisily expelled its own press center. Kamchatrybvod — the Kamchatka Basin Administration for the Conservation and Reproduction of Fish Stocks and Regulation of Fishing — manages the allocation of quotas for marine bioresources (fish, crabs, etc.), and also monitors and conserves fish in rivers and the coastal zone. For obvious reasons, it is one of the most influential and richest organizations in Kamchatka and indeed in the entire Russian Far East.
Kamchatrybvod has had good luck for a long time: for several years, it was run by people with initiative, who created a model organization. In particular, they formed the Charitable Public Foundation for the Conservation of Bioresources (the North Pacific Foundation) under its Press Center, which published the similarly named magazine and newspaper Tikhookeanskiy vestnik ("Pacific Review"), known throughout the Far East (and in environmental circles, far beyond). It also operated the Far Eastern Fishermen’s Movie Studio.
These media projects had an obvious environmental orientation, and exposed more than a few cases of corruption, both within the fishery administrations and in the marine inspectors of the Federal Border Service, which is responsible for fish conservation on the open seas. To all appearances, these were the publications for which the editors had to pay. The journalists, called "public inspectors" by Kamchatrybvod, were fired "for failure… to produce positive results in their work" and deprived of access to the administration’s offices, while the Editor in Chief, Sergey Ivanovich Vakhrin (also the manager of the Kamchatrybvod Press Center) was warned and given a new job description. But what a description! Previously, the Basin Administration Press Center’s mission was formulated as "the conduct of public explanatory work among the population… on matters of the conservation of fish stocks, other aquatic bioresources and plants, and the regulation of their harvesting… The provision of information to specialists at Kamchatrybvod, the Fisheries Committee, territorial and regional administrations, and the public of fishing regions in the Far East and countries in the North Pacific region regarding urgent problems of conserving the fish stocks of the Kamchatka fishing basin." Now, the mission has been narrowed greatly: "the formation, using the mass media, of a positive public opinion of the activities of Kamchatrybvod and the State Fisheries Committee."
Thus, the work of the Kamchatka Press Center to uncover corruption in the fishing industry and to expose the role of various mafia organizations in the collapse of the Russian fishing industry, not to mention its conservation activities, which reflected well on the entire State Fisheries Committee system, was deemed unnecessary.
In personnel terms, fishing on Kamchatka has been ailing for a long time. First, the functions of fish conservation on the open seas were taken away from fishery managers and given to the Federal Border Service. The talented manager of Kamchatrybvod, Vladimir Burkanov, who was regarded as too active by the upper echelons, was forced to leave, and even to emigrate to the US. Early this year, another scandal broke involving the management of the Border Troops’ Kamchatka State Marine Inspectorate: the three-time director of the Federal Border Service fired its manager, Aleksandr Kuzhim, but he was later reinstated by a court…
It’s not surprising: fish conservation departments on the peninsula stand in the way of giant rivers of money of a completely nonregional nature. But whereas analysts linked the Kuzhim scandal to a struggle for the right to trade in contraband concealed by businessmen acting under the cover of the Russian Orthodox Church, the present scandal involving Sergey Vakhrin and his publications is obviously tied to the approaching division of fish.
People in Kamchatka believe that Moscow’s recent appointee as the next head Kamchatrybvod, Aleksandr Zheltyshev (the previous, "pro-Kamchatka" head, Vladimir Rezvanov, was fired by the State Fisheries Committee without explanation) is under orders to clear the way to Kamchatka’s shores for a monster from Vladivostok, the Far Eastern Marine Product Public Joint-Stock Company Holding Company (Dalmoreprodukt). This well-known offshore entity, largely beholden to foreign capital, uses ocean-going supertankers in coastal waters, long ago packing the depleted waters of the southern Far East with them.
It is clear that in the context of the illegal division, the extra eyes and ears of ecologists and the press, as well as those in Kamchatrybvod itself, are simply dangerous to the new team. Admittedly, no criminal charges have yet been filed against the reporters from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, nor against Grigory Pasko, but it would surprise no one; after all, the ecologists have no intention of surrendering. The Northern Pacific and Pacific Review will continue publishing independently; the editors have already moved to a new office.
Yevgeny Komarov, New News (Novyye Izvestiya)
September 22, 2001