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Russia Moves to Outlaw Walls of Death Drift Net Fishing

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has proposed outlawing fishing with drift nets, otherwise known as "walls of death", following a lengthy campaign by fishermen and politicians in Kamchatka as well as local organizations including WWF-Russia.

Drift nets are used to catch fish migrating in open sea. Each net can be several kilometres long and their use results in a large bycatch of sharks, turtles, seabirds and marine mammals which are usually thrown back dead into the ocean.

Large-scale ocean drift netting was banned by the UN in international waters in 2002 and near-shore drift netting is carefully regulated in US and EU waters. In the Russian Far East two kinds of ocean drift net fishing exist: Japanese, in accordance with the bilateral agreement with Russia, and the so-called “scientific” drift netting. Both are principally aimed at the highly prized sockeye salmon and it is estimated that 60,000 tons of other less valuable salmon are discarded annually.

Over the past three months WWF-Russia, together with the Kamchatka coalition “Save the Salmon Together”, has collected signatures in support of a ban on drift net fishing. The coalition, supported by WWF, unites local NGOs, fishermen and representatives of the Kamchatka legislative and executive authorities.

The Kamchatka coastal fishermen, including indigenous people, have been fighting for several years for a ban on drift net fishing. Now, according to the press service of the Kamchatka Parliament (Duma), Prime Minister Putin has given orders for documents to be prepared on the complete ban of drift nets in Russian waters.

“We welcome this proposal because we consider ocean drift netting to be environmentally dangerous and there are better ways of catching fish,” said Konstantin Zgurovsky, Head of WWF-Russia Marine Programme.

It is not for nothing that drift nets are called walls of death. Pacific salmon and marine mammals including whales, dolphins, seabirds and even threatened species such as the Short-tailed Albatross get caught in the nets.

Another consequence of drift net fishing is that the nets become a barrier for fish on their way from the ocean to the rivers to spawn, thus depriving local fishermen of their potential catch.

“This month in Kamchatka there will be a public hearing on the drift net ban and there are some commercial interests of people who want to continue using the drift net, so the struggle is not over,” said Zgurovsky.

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