The total decline brought by Russia to the occupied Crimea has affected all spheres of the regional economy. The amazing ability to destroy everything that has been developed over the years has become the hallmark of the “Russian world”. This disaster covered the fishing industry of Crimea, which until 2014 was a promising sector and brought significant profits to the budget of the peninsula. Before the attempted annexation, scientists recorded 114 out of 193 fish species living in the Black Sea in the Crimea-adjacent waters. Also, according to existing data, more than 600 fishing vessels, 89 private and 12 state-owned enterprises of the industry worked in Crimea before the occupation . This sector of the economy was protected by the state and local ecologists and it was protected by special programs that provided for the restoration of resources. The Ukraine’s State Target Economic Program for the Development of Fisheries for 2012-2016 may be pointed as an example .
Today in Ukraine, as in every civilized state, there is also a corresponding Strategy for the Development of Fisheries for the Period until 2023. However, unfortunately, the state cannot really influence the situation with fisheries on the temporarily occupied peninsula, which today is close to catastrophic due to the control over it by Russia. The candidate of legal sciences, associate professor Viktor Filatov will try to determine the scale of this disaster and its significance for Ukraine.
Immediately after the attempted annexation, the occupying state began to act with already proven methods – to squeeze everything possible from the occupied territories as much as possible. The fisheries industry was one of the first industries to experience such methods for themselves. Until 2014, the statistics of fish catches in the Black Sea basin was quite stable. About 30 thousands tons of fish were caught annually. From 2014 to 2017, this figure increased to 90 thousands tons. To date, more recent statistics are not publicly available, but the pace can only indicate an increase in the volume of fish catch. In fact, this is barbarism, since such volumes threaten the destruction of the population of certain fish species.
Only invaders who are generally not interested in the development of this sector of the economy and bringing in a stable income act this way. In fact, such a policy is recognized by Russia, as evidenced by numerous statements by officials and scientists of the aggressor state. In particular, in 2018, the President of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexander Sergeev, said that “we have become the owners of such wealth that is being mined and mined” . This phrase indicates the complete incompetence and consumer attitude of Russia, including the Crimea. This is a real threat of strategic importance for Ukraine and the residents of the temporarily occupied peninsula, which in the future may have irreversible consequences for the ecosystem of the Crimea.
It should be noted that an increase in the volume of fish catch led to an increase in the number of economic entities that received the appropriate “permits” during the years of occupation. Moreover, analytical studies show that the growth in the number of entrepreneurs occurred not at the expense of the Crimean residents, but at the expense of Russian companies that received “permits” from the “authorities of the Russian Federation” . That is, we are convinced that Russia is not interested in the development of the economy of the peninsula and in increasing the level of employment of the local population. For the aggressor State, it is much more important to satisfy the interests of its own oligarchs who finance the current political regime. For example, among those who received a “permit” for fishing, one can see LLC “Krym-Resource” founded in January 2015 by LLC “Mangust” from the Russian city of Kurgan, and the founders of LLC “Big Crimea” in July 2015 were two residents of Chechnya. This is further evidence of the Kremlin’s policies serving the interests of certain clans.
Ukrainian specialists constantly record that the catch of fish by such entities occurs with gross technical violations. Thus, according to the monitoring group of the ‘Institute of Black Sea Strategic Studies’, commercial fishing off the coast of the occupied Crimea in the Black and Azov Seas is carried out by massive coastal trawling by groups of seiners up to 10 vessels simultaneously.
These seiners run in a ledge to each other at a distance of several hundred meters, and in fact perform a continuous cleanup of the Crimean coast from Kerch to Yevpatoria (bottom trawling with active midwater trawls), starting from 100-200 meters from the coast . In states concerned about the conservation and reproduction of marine resources, such methods of fishing are simply prohibited, and the authorities have established strict financial and economic sanctions for fishing companies. However, for aggressor State this is practically a common practice, tested in many territories it has invaded to.
For Ukraine, such barbarism has very significant negative economic consequences, because after 2014 the state had to reduce the volume of fish and seafood caught in the Azov-Black Sea basin from 220 thousand to 90 thousand tons per year. This affected the volume of imports, which increased to 300 thousand tons per year. This situation for the state has two main negative aspects. Firstly, the number of entrepreneurs working in the field of fisheries has decreased, and this is the loss of taxes and jobs. Today, the industry is essentially in a state of crisis.
Secondly, imports lead to a decrease in the amount of fish consumed. Currently, this figure is 9-14 kilograms per year. Although, according to the WHO, this figure should be at least 20 kilograms . Now it is obvious that the occupation of the Crimea has become a tragedy not only for the local population, but for the whole of Ukraine, since all indicators in the state are interconnected, and problems in one branch of the national economy are instantly reflected in another area.
Until 2014, the Ukrainian authorities have been actively solving the problems of systemic pollution of the sea by industrial emissions for a year; reducing the volume of fresh water entering the Black Sea; the appearance, due to changes in weather conditions, of colonies of new marine fauna, threatening the balance of the entire ecosystem of the Black Sea; reduction of fish stocks, including valuable and unique fish species. However, solving these problems became impossible after the beginning of the occupation. Russia is not interested in them at all, since 2014 it has been exclusively engaged in militarization and colonization of the peninsula, which pollutes the Crimean coast, and this is especially true for the restoration of nuclear weapons storage facilities. Note that the occupiers have a rather specific feature: they create risks for the Black Sea even where they should not be. For example, Ukrainian experts talk about significant harm to the Crimean coast as a result of the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait, as well as the ‘Tavrida highway’ .
Most likely, the aggressor state does not plan in the future to bear responsibility for the pollution of the Black Sea and for the destruction of this branch of the national economy. It is necessary to mention some other factors that indirectly affect the fish industry in the occupied Crimea. First of all, this concerns: the systematic conduct of military exercises in violation of environmental legislation; the weakening of the protection of the territory and the coast as a result of the application of imperfect Russian legislation; uncontrolled development of the Crimean coast with infrastructure facilities .
Under these conditions, there is no need to wait long. Russia will simply destroy the entire ecosystems of the peninsula in the coming years. In order to minimize the risks, Ukraine is trying to use all possible legal tools, proceeding from unconditional territorial integrity. So, at the beginning of this year, the limits and forecasts for the catch of biological resources in water bodies of Ukraine for 2021 came into force . Of course, these limits are much less than the real volumes of the catch in the temporarily occupied Crimea that is not controlled by Ukraine. But the State must use the available means of influencing the situation, which will receive international support.
At the same time, Russia, in its usual manner, is trying to create the illusion of the development of the industry. Recently, it was announced about “state support for the fishing industry”, which in 2021 will receive 10 entities. In the opinion of the occupying “powers”, this will allow them to continue to increase the volume of production of marine biological resources and their processing, and will also contribute to the modernization of fixed assets of companies . That is, it is not at all about restoring resources, using them rationally. For Ukraine, this is another reason to think about accelerating the pace of de-occupation of Crimea.
The local population is already experiencing the consequences of the decline in fisheries. Crimean residents say that fish farming is almost not carried out. At the same time, there is a shortage of fish on the shelves of the Crimean markets and shops. It is also almost impossible to go fishing now, because most of the reservoirs are used on a paid basis, and access to the rest is closed for the local population.
In addition, almost all of the fish caught there is not sold in the peninsula, but exported to Russia. Fish, brought from the Russia’ Kuban, are more common in the occupied Crimea. Due to high prices for transportation, it is almost inaccessible to the local population . Therefore, under the conditions of occupation, the consumption of fish by Crimean residents has rapidly decreased, which will certainly affect their health. This becomes a massive deprivation of the Crimean inhabitants of their fundamental human rights, including the right to development, which is happening at the political will of the Kremlin. Today Ukraine must confront this at the level of international legal authorities.
A separate problem for the fisheries of the occupied Crimea was the access of ordinary citizens to marine natural resources. We are talking about the Crimean fishermen, who annually in October-November received good income from the sale of fish. Today they are suffering losses because they have almost lost their sales markets. Prior to the attempted annexation, 90 % of the fish caught was shipped to mainland Ukraine, and the rest was bought by Ukrainian and foreign tourists in the Crimea. These markets are currently inaccessible, and such significant volumes are not needed for domestic consumption. Note that the Russian market is not too happy about Crimean goods. In particular, officials from the Kremlin note that the supply of Crimean products may lead to overstocking of the market, which will lead to a decrease in the catch by Russian companies themselves, which will incur losses . That is, it turns out that the aggressor State is worried only about its own entrepreneurs, and they are not interested in Crimean fishermen at all. This is the kind of “love in Russian”: everywhere to talk about “the value of the Crimea for Russia”, and at the same time to bring it into complete decline.
Additional confirmation of this is that despite the absence of a proper fish market in the temporarily occupied Crimea, Russia allowed its own businessman to fill the Crimean markets with fish from Novorossiysk and Kuban. In particular, the Russian fishery producer Yuri Atanov, who lobbies for the prevention of Crimean fish in Russia, has himself established the supply of products to the peninsula. Pro-Russian puppets in Crimea have given this entrepreneur all the necessary “permissions”, and now Crimean fishermen are in a difficult situation in general and are forced to significantly reduce the volume of catch .
To this should be added the problem of bureaucracy, which has been raised to the highest level by the Russian “authorities”. So, it takes a colossal amount of time to obtain “permits of the Russian sample”, to order new packaging and to switch to “new sanitary standards”, which is simply not permissible during the period of anchovy fishing. As a result of bureaucracy, time is being artificially dragged out, and many anglers are simply forced to leave the business. In addition, Crimean fishing companies are deprived of subsidies that the Russian “authorities” provide to business entities representing the fishing industry. This situation makes any competition impossible .
Of course, in such conditions, poachers became more active in the temporarily occupied Crimea, which constitutes a significant problem for the fisheries of the peninsula. They work “under the roof” of the Crimean “officials” who cover all their offenses. This problem is already so acute that even local media, controlled by the Russian invaders, are talking about it. So, this year a group of poachers was identified, from whom more than a ton of fish was confiscated. They used prohibited tools of fishery without having any permits .
In 2019, Russian “border guards” also detained persons who were illegally catching redlip mullet on the Arabat Spit using illegal fishing gear . In fact, these are only those poachers who most likely did not share with their “curators”. The majority of their “colleagues” calmly go out to sea from the Crimea every day, and you will not hear about them in any news release. Along with this, the Russian “authorities” are trying to create the illusion that all fishery violators come to the Black and Azov Seas and the Sivash from the mainland of Ukraine. Everyone remembers the detention of the Ukrainian fishing vessel in April of this year in the Crimea, which had all the permits and was within the maritime waters of Ukraine, recognized by the whole world .
The development of poaching is facilitated by the total corruption of the occupying “aurthorities”, which has not bypassed the fish industry. It is worth dwelling on this problem separately. Let us emphasize that immediately after the attempted annexation of the peninsula, the Crimean “officials” set a fee for catching fish in the Black Sea. By that time, the amount was equivalent to two thousand hryvnia. Crimean fishermen began to complain to the Ukrainian authorities, but after the final establishment by Russia of control over the peninsula, such complaints became ineffective . In the future, corruption became the norm for representatives of the peninsula’s fishery. A more recent example of such corruption was the events of this year, when Crimean fishermen threatened to block the highway so that “the Russian authorities would pay attention to their problems”.
It was about “setting quotas” for fishing. According to industry representatives, the appropriate “permits” were issued exclusively for bribes to “their” people in Rostov. Crimean fishermen have reliable information that there is an unspoken order to issue such “permits” for fishing in Crimea only to Russian companies, and not to Crimean ones. At present, the “authorities” of the occupied peninsula did not react to the appeals of the Crimean residents , limiting themselves to loud statements . In fact, there is a systematic and purposeful destruction of the industry, which was very profitable before 2014 and allowed the local population to live well and pay taxes to the State.
According to many analysts, the state of the fishing industry is direct evidence that the fish industry has become part of the policy of Russia, which it implements both in relations with mainland Ukraine and to the occupied peninsula. The branch of the economy we are examining allowed the Crimean residents to somehow feed themselves, but the aggressor State is doing everything possible to make this industry unprofitable and completely disappear . This once again proves the thesis that Russia needs the Crimea only as a military base and has geopolitical significance for the Kremlin. The political nature of the problem is also indicated by the issues of water supply into the Crimea.
Since the closure of the North Crimean Canal, the Russian “authorities” have consistently blamed Ukraine for the problems of the peninsula’s fisheries. Indeed, some farms reoriented their activities, and some have gone out of business altogether. However, the Kremlin for some reason does not say that the occupation “power” did not provide for any compensation for the representatives of the Crimean fishing industry, and, on the contrary, began to flood the markets with fish from the regions of Russia itself . This confirms that the Russian invaders were not going to do anything for the local population.
Summing up, we note that the situation in the fishing industry of the occupied Crimea has become almost catastrophic. In fact, the industry is on the verge of complete extinction, and Ukraine, unfortunately, is very limited in the forms of influence on the occupation “authorities”. The destruction of the industry threatens economic consequences, which are already felt by the Crimean fishermen. It is not in vain that many of them are already expressing their intention to go to work in Africa, where they will at least be able to receive decent wages for their work.
Scientists say that the Crimea is gradually losing its status of an agrarian peninsula and that the destruction of fisheries is only part of the global problem. The complexity of the situation lies in the fact that with the de-occupation of the Crimea, it will be almost impossible to restore this industry, since the reproduction of marine resources is a matter of more than one decade. Combined with the environmental problems of the Black Sea, which the Kremlin does not address, the restoration of the fisheries generally becomes an illusory idea. Russia’s policy here is understandable: it is trying to make the most of all its resources so far, and leave behind a ruined industry. Therefore, today for Ukraine, the priority issue is the development of a strategy to prevent such barbaric farming in order to preserve the fish population for future generations.
2. Про затвердження Державної цільової економічної програми розвитку рибного господарства на 2012–2016 роки: Постанова Кабінету Міністрів України від 23 листопада 2011 р. № 1245. Урядовий кур’єр. 2011. № 243.