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Marine Salmon Interactions Program

Russian Far East Hatchery Workshop

An International Scientific Workshop “Current Issues Facing Salmon Hatcheries in the Russian Far East” was held at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia, from 30 November to 1 December 2006. The hatchery workshop was part of the broader Russian Academy of Science Conference Conservation of Kamchatka Marine and Terrestrial Biodiversity.

The workshop was hosted by several international conservation organizations including the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, the United Nations Development Program-Global Ecological Facility Project on Conservation and Sustainable Use of Kamchatka Salmonids, the State of the Salmon Program of the Wild Salmon Center, and Ecotrust. A total of 22 papers were presented by Russian, U.S., and Chinese scientists over the 2-day workshop. Following the presentation of papers, an open forum was held for public testimony and comment about Pacific salmonid resources and hatchery programs in the Far East.

The open forum was characterized by several spirited pro-and-con commentaries concerning Russian salmon hatcheries and issues related to salmon resource management and conservation. After the workshop a 1-day field trip was organized for a visit to the modern Malkinsky Hatchery on a tributary of the Bolshaya River, which drains into the Okhotsk Sea.

Papers presented at the workshop included overviews on the history of salmon hatcheries in different regions of the Russian Far East beginning in the early 1900s. Many of the early hatcheries were poorly designed, used inappropriate science, and were unsuccessful. Some are still in operation. Currently there are 53 salmon hatcheries in the Russian Far East according to the following regional breakdowns: 28 hatcheries on Sakhalin Island (including 9 new hatcheries nearing completion); 6 hatcheries in the Kurile Islands; 7 hatcheries in the Khaborvsk Region (including 5 on the Amur River 200-1,500 km upstream from the mouth); 2 hatcheries in the Primorye Region along the Okhotsk Sea coast; 4 hatcheries in the Magadan Region; and 6 hatcheries on the Kamchatka Peninsula (2 on the west coast, and 4 on the Pacific side). There are also two Chinese chum salmon hatcheries on tributaries of the Amur River near Harbin, China.

In 2005, Russian Far East hatcheries released 677 million juvenile salmon. The vast percentages of these releases were chum (56%) and pink (41%) salmon. Smaller quantities of sockeye (1.4%), coho (1.0%), masu (0.5%), and Chinook (0.1%) salmon were also released. More than 84% of all the releases occurred in the Sakhalin-Kurile Islands region. Commercial fisheries in the Sakhalin-Kurile region harvested 135,000 t of pink salmon in 2005, with an estimated 18% of the catch coming from hatcheries. Chum salmon harvest in this region was 10,755 t in 2005, with an estimated 66% of the catch coming from local hatcheries.

Two of the most successful Russian salmon hatcheries, the Kurilsky and Reidovy hatcheries on Iturup Island in the Kurile Islands group, in recent years had return rates of pink salmon from 6% to 10% of the number of juveniles released. These levels of efficiency were possible only after short-term rearing of juveniles to 0.8-1.2 g before release and favorable temperatures of coastal waters (generally warmer) at the time of release.

Most hatcheries in the Khaborvsk (Amur River), Primorye, Magadan, and Kamchatka regions do not have sufficient adult returns to the hatchery to meet egg requirements, and many still take eggs from wild stocks to try to make up the difference. Several Russian scientists expressed concern over operational procedures at many of their hatcheries, including the lack of adequate evaluation. Under the existing system, successes of artificial production and efficiencies at many hatcheries are based not on adult returns or contributions to fisheries but on the numbers of eggs incubated and numbers of juveniles released.

Currently there are numerous proposals to build new Far East hatcheries in Russia, usually by private companies. A major concern by some scientists over privatization of new hatcheries is that the company, by building the hatchery, gains fishing rights in ecologically favorable areas at the expense of traditional fisheries.

Other proposals were made by Russian scientists to: 1) establish a unified database of all Far East hatcheries that includes detailed statistics on juveniles released, including release timing, origin, and biological characteristics of spawners used in hatcheries, return rates including fisheries contributions, and information on early life history of juveniles after release; 2) provide for marking of all juveniles released from hatcheries using best methods and organize wide-scale identification of marked hatchery fish in commercial fisheries; 3) ban the transfer of eggs between hatcheries as well as the collecting of eggs from spawners that do not belong to the rivers of hatchery location; and 4) enforce strict requirement and control measures for documentation of planning, development, and approval of construction of new hatcheries.

Developing a unified database for Russian hatcheries and applying these recommendations would provide a basis for assessments for either improving less efficient hatcheries, changing their specializations, or closing them down. Additionally, these steps would provide a better framework for the rationale and approval for building any new hatcheries.

United States scientists gave reports on: 1) a generalized assessment on the state of North Pacific salmon hatcheries; 2) an economic assessment of augmentation hatcheries designed to continue commercial harvest on the Columbia River; 3) growth and survival of salmon in response to competition and climate change; and 4) ecological implications for interactions between wild and hatchery salmon. In an overview of Alaska’s salmon hatchery program, Bill Heard from ABL pointed out that the Alaska program already has in place policies and guidelines and is based on many of the recommended changes that some Russian scientists were proposing for their hatcheries.
An issue that permeated much of the workshop discussions on hatcheries and salmon management in the Russian Far East was the pervasive role of illegal poaching of adult salmon on spawning grounds. Poaching for roe to sell on black markets may well be the greatest single threat to the health and well-being of many Russian salmon stocks. In areas with high unemployment or low income, one or two small buckets of roe might be the equivalent of a month’s wages.

According to one source, because poaching is so lucrative it comes in many forms: from lone villagers trying to make ends meet, to local gangs, to large bands of highly organized and armed professionals. One scientist said that some groups use small children to collect roe because they cannot be prosecuted. Russia’s Far East Federal District in 2003 reported 135 metric tons (t) of illegally caught salmon caviar. On the field trip to the Malkinsky Hatchery the hatchery manager reported that 80-85% of Chinook salmon returning to the hatchery were males, because females are taken by poachers before they can reach the hatchery. During the open forum discussions, arguments were made by some individuals that building any new hatcheries would only be “feeding the poachers”.

By Bill Heard

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