Caspian states agree on fishing zones, protection for sturgeon

The five nations bordering the Caspian Sea have signed onto an agreement clarifying each country’s respective national fishing zones.

Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Iran signed the Convention on The Legal Status of the Caspian Sea in August at the 5th Caspian Summit, thus bringing clarity to fishing rights in the waters containing up to 90 percent of global stocks of sturgeon. Presidents of the five countries also prolonged the ban on fishing sturgeon for another year, with its possible further extensions to come, due to its endangered status.

The Caspian Sea is a unique water body – an intercontinental sea often referred to as the biggest lake in the world due to the absence of a direct access to the ocean. With a surface area of 371,000 square kilometers, it’s rich with a number of species including sturgeon, roach, carp, pike perch, grey mullet, kutum, anchovy, bream, pike, and perch.  

Total fishing output on the Caspian Sea is not that big, though, with Russian fisheries catching only about 71,900 metric tons (MT) of fish in 2017. Much of that volume was grey mullet, of which Russia harvested a total of 4.9 million MT nationally last year. The total allowable catch (TAC) for this year for the Caspian Sea is 119,800 MT.  

The convention has put the end to negotiations that had been ongoing for nearly 22 years. The new agreement has set borders of sovereign waters for each country, as well as fishing zones. Each country has been granted an exclusive economic zone out 15 nautical miles (27.8 kilometers) from its border, with an exclusive fishing zone that extends out another 10 nautical miles (18.5 kilometers).

The remaining common area will be subject to joint regulation to be decided at a future meeting. The Caspian states are entitled to jointly set TAC for species and split it among the countries. The states can also exchange or sell their quotas as well as sign bilateral agreements on fishing in their national waters. 

The convention contains the statement that all the countries involved are obliged to protect the environment and the biodiversity of the Caspian Sea, which has been proven to be rich with oil deposits. 

As a sign of this ecological commitment, the leaders of the Caspian states extended the ban on fishing sturgeon introduced in 2005 for one more year. Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed he is ready to support further extension of the ban to ensure the preservation of the species. Putin called for the other signees of the protocol to take tougher measures to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing of sturgeon in their national waters.

While sturgeon catches were once as high as 40,000 MT annually in the early part of the 20th century, the catch fell below 27,000 MT in the 1970s, and there was a sharp decrease through the early 2000s, when Russia became the first of the Caspian countries to enact an outright ban on catching sturgeon in 2005. 

Photo courtesy of the Ramsar Convention


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