President Vladimir Putin: Good day, dear colleagues!
Our meeting today is dedicated to the effective management of the fishing industry in Russia. I note that these questions have come up a number of times in recent years. It was here in Astrakhan that one of the first regional meetings devoted to the subject was held. And most recently within the framework of the national project Development of the Agro-Industrial Complex the aquaculture situation was extensively analysed.
This year’s Annual Address [to the Federal Assembly] set out new tasks linked to the development of the fishing industry with a view to obtaining the maximum benefit from it. This includes priority support for fish processing in Russia and the interdiction of illegal fishing and smuggling. This conservation of aquatic resources and their development will serve the interests of future generations.
Along with this, change in the industry has been slow. Its competitiveness is completely at odds with the very rich potential of domestic fish resources. There has been no significant, positive change in the amount caught or processed. As before, we still sell the raw material, and quite cheaply at that, and then overpay when we import seafood. And we know that there is a strong demand for fish from our Russian consumers, and that the market for these products in Russia has grown recently and continues to grow.
I think that we must once again analyse, meticulously and in depth, the reasons for this situation and, most importantly, outline effective measures to effect rapid changes in this situation. A State Council working group has prepared proposals that are now before us for discussion. First and foremost I would like to suggest that we dwell on the principal systemic issues. The first is the procedure for determining the size of the catch and the quota. At present the size of the catch is set by law for 250 kinds of aquatic resources. However, there are only about 50 kinds where a large number of fish are actually caught and processed. In effect, this means that today we are actually underfishing by more than a million and a half tonnes. Irregularities in the mechanism for increasing the share of the fish caught in coastal regions has made the situation that much more difficult. And you know that the economy in these regions traditionally relies on the fishing industry. Some settlements engage exclusively in this sort of production and therefore people depend on it. The current procedure imposes limits on the effective regulation of the fisheries, thereby encouraging illegal catches and corruption. As a result, the country’s economy is deprived both of its raw material base and its tax revenues.
One of the most critical issues is fishing in Russia’s economic zone, beyond the limits of the 12-mile customs zone. Why do we have such an economic zone? We have announced that this is our economic zone. If it isn’t ours, whose is it? For whom was it created? We don’t have any means of accounting for or controlling the amount of fish caught there or the export of fish resources. This export doesn’t pass through customs control. We have no international agreements with the majority of the countries that consume these products. There are no legal mechanisms for monitoring from space the movement of these ships or information exchange. Overall, fishing in Russia’s maritime economic zone is the source of enormously profitable illegal activity. And the government cabinet must take immediate measures to restore order.
I also note that the battle against poaching is fought mainly by force. Of course we must expand these efforts. But the fight against crime must, at the same time, create the sort of economic conditions that will encourage fishing and the processing of biological resources in our country.
The poor condition of the fishing fleet and its ports is holding up the development of the fishing sector. Moreover, the fishing fleet continues to be updated by ageing foreign vessels, ageing in both the physical and moral sense. And finally, as before, there are still no economic incentives in place for servicing fishing boats in our Russian ports efficiently. As a result, fish continues to go to the markets of other countries.
All of this represents a vivid picture of conditions in our fishing industry with its emphasis on raw material. To turn it around we should undertake the important modernisation of our fishing ports and even the proactive construction of boats in domestic shipyards. Resolving these problems requires not only the support of the state but also the widespread involvement of private investors. Today I would like to consider in detail the means by which such investment can be encouraged, including the various forms of partnership between the state and the private sector. I am sure that there will be an interesting discussion about this.
It is no exaggeration to say that what is crucial for the industry today is the development of aquaculture. We know that in the last decade the size of the world’s annual catch of biological resources has clearly stabilized at a level of about 95 million tonnes. Most experts believe that in the future fish will be cultivated on fish farms, as will other aquatic animals and plants. I also note that in a whole range of countries the growth rate in this sector is already 7–10% a year. We recently visited a factory called Bios. And there too specialists were talking about precisely this subject. In Russia we have paid almost no attention to aquaculture, and even now it is developing slowly and not keeping pace with present demands. We must not only recover what we have let slip through our fingers but also promote the most up to date means of cultivation and advanced technology. And to begin with we must strengthen the legal framework. The lack of legislation and regulation concerning aquaculture has seriously slowed business activity, discouraged investors in this sector and prevented the implementation of new forms of fishery management. I would ask participants to pause over this particular question. The Director of Bios, the enterprise we visited, has drawn attention to this. There has been a draft bill in the State Duma for a number of years. Why isn’t the government promoting it? Is no one interested?
I have touched on only the most important issues concerning the recovery of the country’s fishing industry. I hope that during the discussion we will consider other problems, including those related to science, technology, and the human resource potential of the industry.