Kamchatka is given up

Kamchatka inhabitants are in panic. The palpable threat of economic collapse hovered over the peninsular. These dreadful words are pronounced in official circles — in March, according to governor M. Mashkovtsev, the beginning of this end is expected. In May All-Kamchatka referendum is planned.
Whatís happened? Always calm, balanced Russian outskirt, where motherlandís sun is rising, suddenly became nervous, started seething and even, as we have already said, panicked.
In my memory, and I was born here, this was only once, when Kamchatka was frozen without warmth and light, being separated from the mainland by the Sea of Okhotsk.
That time the whole country ached for us — pictures with “true horrors” were constantly broadcasted on central TV channels, reports of compassion, sympathy and heartache followed each other. That time Kamchatka felt a full-value part of the country — one of its bleeding wounds.
Although the former government looked at Kamchatkaís fuel and energy misfortunes with serene indifference, compassion and feelings of the whole country and appeal of the freezing population of the peninsular to UNís headquarters produced some effect: they found money — and the remote Kamchatka separated from the country was knit again with the mainland by slow tankers with black oil and transports loaded with coal.
Now the situation is quite different. During the last year Kamchatka lived not a single day without light or warmth. All black oil reservoirs — the governmental reserve — are full. New tankers and transports are spotting in Nakhodka ports according to the schedule set by high instances.
Why do we panic then? What sort of collapse is it, with which the Kamchatka governor scares his loyal subjects?
To understand what is going on, it is necessary to make a brief excurse into history, into the epoch when Kamchatka was called “the countryís fish shop” and applauded to its world records. It went through many troubles — during the Great Patriotic War (and after it) the country survived thanks to potatoes and herring — that very famous pacific herring that Far Eastern fishermen caught to save their compatriots from famine.
Historically the peninsular had priority in fisheries. To be exact, in fisheries and defense. Kamchatka was not only a “fish shop”, but also an “unsinkable aircraft carrier”.
The defense priority was no doubt a secret one, and we knew little about its place in the economy of the peninsular.
The place of the priority in fisheries in the economy of the peninsular is known to us for certain, to tenth or hundredth parts of per cent, as this very priority was raised to an absolute degree and submitted everything and everyone to itself — life in Kamchatka, having become the basis of its activities — its prosperity and … death.
Here there are figures of priority in fisheries — during the recent years, the share of fish industry in the peninsular has been 67% (1999), 62% (2000), 59.2% (2001). These are official data — we quote them from the late address of the governor of Kamchatka Province M. Mashkovtsev to the Chairman of the Federation Council S. Mironov.
Below there are other figures. They reflect situation in Russia in general.
“When auctions were opened — in March-April 2001 — bills payable of enterprises increased in one and a half (at 10 billion rubles). By July they grew to 33 billion rubles. For the first six months of the year … tax proceeds to budgets of all levels shrinked at 14% … ” (E. Nazdratenko, Head of the State Fisheries Committee, “Eugeny Nazdratenko sums up the year 2001”).
What does the Russian government undertake to prevent collapse in economies of fishing regions?
The government … is pulling tight the collar on the neck of fish industry. Fish quotas put up at auctions in 2002 increased in one and a half in comparison with the previous year (21.7% of TPC (Total Permitted Catch) in 2001 as against 36.5% of TPC in 2002).
What we could foresee in 2001 became real in 2002 — Kamchatka Province, which fish industry plays a vital role in economy of the country, came first to the line that marks the beginning of the end …
In 2002 the total direct fiscal losses of the province (budget payments, regional budget funds, fuel purchase for public heat-and-power engineering, as well as participation in other regional programs through purchasing pay quotas) may grow at 286,6 million rubles in comparison with 2001 and at 764 million rubles in comparison with 2000 or 30.1% of the total regional revenue in 2001” (M.B. Mashkovtsev). At the same time in 2001 “53% of unsold lots remained intact, I mean nobody got them” (E.I. Nazdratenko).
These are virtual economic effects of notorious fish auctions, which practicability is repeatedly underlined by their idea-monger and conductor, Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Herman O. Gref.
As a consequence, the losses of fishing companies, according to specialists, were no less than 1,5 billion rubles in 2001” (E.I. Nazdratenko).
“Nothing terrible, - says Gref in public in 2002, while losses of fishing companies are forecasted to be catastrophic, - 70% of auction gain will return to regions!”
It will … to cover unemployment relief to those who has lost jobs in result of these auctions, - to fishermen: they estimate 20% of jobs cut in big fishing companies alone in Kamchatka in 2002. And no one knows what will happen in small and medium fish business, as this business has no real perspective, as it has no basic resource it rests upon, - FISH.
Kamchatka is no exception; it is just a “verge”, a “quintessence” of depression into which the fish industry has plummeted thanks to Herman Grefís gamble.
The process of differentiation between fishing enterprises became more marked that rides on unequal starting at intraindustry competition. According to statistics, 97.7% of income from industrial disposal of products comes to large enterprises, which make up only 10.8% of all businesses. It means that the rest 90% of the industry enterprises received 2.1% only” (E.I. Nazdratenko, the figures are given in original).
So, Kamchatka is evenly, I mean like all other regions, deprived of fish resources that considerably flow to foreign companies (directly — via auctions, where foreigners have the same right like Russians, and indirectly — through crediting Russian fishing companies, in order to participate in auctions, where foreigners have no access: doesnít in explain why Russian fishing companies could buy out only a part of these quotas — the prices were biting, many couldnít afford it).
Itís a sad equality — everyone has got his worn hat.
Above all, the State Fisheries Committee — the state body authorized to regulate fish resources — stepped over traditional quota allocation among Far Eastern regions (it changed the rigid ratio between regions), and Kamchatka in the result of such quota allocation lost about twenty thousand tons of pollock, approximately ten tons of flounder, about six thousand tons of Atka mackerel, more than fifteen hundred tons of cod and got not a single ton of herring in 2002 (that very pacific herring!).
At the same time the State Fisheries Committee of Russia has “lavishly” presented Kamchatka (probably from its emergency stock) — almost a half of all quotas designated for fishing regions of the Far East — with quotas for … bullhead, which is of neither food or commercial value. Above all, they are kicking Kamchatka from its “outskirts” — Petropavlovsk-Komandorskaya subarea that borders on the southern part of Kamchatka, which is most densely populated and with major fishing enterprises concentrated there. It is astonishing, that the Russian president V. Putin officially confirmed in 2000 that people in Kamchatka had priority for quotas in Petropavlovsk-Komandorskaya subarea — so, E. Nazdratenko allocated to Kamchatka in 2002 a lionís share of quotas for … bullhead fisheries in this very subarea and at the same time deprived us of quotas for other items “with the open hand”.
So, the actions of the main authorized state organ in fisheries regulation do not conflict in the least with the present doctrine of economic development in fish industry — smothering of the weakest.
The weakest link, as it ultimately depends upon fish, in the economy complex of the Far East is Kamchatka Province. Therefore it is being driven to “collapse” as its territory with 300 thousand population is of no practical value for those who has his own peculiar interest in the present and future development of this country. Fish can be caught without Kamchatka — the Russian government is concerned with the problem of how to put a squadron of 14 Spanish-built super trawlers at the Sea of Okhotsk that (trawlers) belong to the Greece multi-millionaire Laskaridis and “companions” who as the result of wheeler-dealer finance managed to purchase a fleet for US $ 50 million, for which Russia still owes approximately 140 million dollars to the Paris Club.
Thus Kamchatka and its collapse is a natural outcome for most remote maritime areas traditionally based on fisheries.
Kamchatka is the first victim only because it is less protected than others, as fish resources are its lifeblood… Itís Unprotected… One more paradox — its “unsinkable aircraft carrier” is no doubt less protected in modern Russia.
On the other hand, itís quite typical and indicative for those who has got into this whirlpool of reforms and thinks that his boat wonít sink and will stand decuman wave that again but with new groan of the wind — under the motto of ECONOMIC REFORMS — came down upon this country.
Ask people of Kamchatka what they think about these reforms and you will hear direct and straightforward answer: Gref is a criminal. At least, the Unions of Fishermen of Kamchatka were outspoken about it when they claimed to prosecute the Minister of Economic Development and Trade for decay of fish industry.
Although his reforms are ravaging and destroying the country, Gref is still “ruling the roost”, while the “unsinkable aircraft carrier” is drowning. And someone is probably calculating how much he can earn if he is lucky to sell it as scrap metal.
Then the next weakest link will reveal itself… The country is vast — Sadovoye Koltso (a road circle in Moscow) is still far.
The inhabitants of Kamchatka can no longer bear it — at a regional referendum on May 26 they are going to demand restitution of fish quotas to the regions and reconstruction of the regionís economy from the government. Though whether Moscow pays its “royal” attention to the highest authority of the Federation Subject — will of residents — is a big question? Then, whoís next?..
Sergei Vakhrin,