Russia places moratorium on fishing threatened Baikal omul

Published on
November 9, 2017

A three-year ban imposed by the Russian government on fishing Baikal omul began 1 October, leaving Russians without one of their most popular seafood delicacies. 

Baikal omul is a whitefish species in the salmon family, endemic to Siberia’s Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world and the biggest reserve of fresh water on Earth. Prior to the moratorium on omul fishing, the fish was consumed mainly in the regions of Irkutsk and Buraytia, where Lake Baikal is located, and in its smoked form, across Russia. Its popularity caused overfishing and eventually led to declining amounts of catch. 

According to the Russian government, the three-year ban on omul fishing is assumed to be enough for recovery of the species, but the ban will be prolonged if needed. It also includes feeder rivers that flow into Lake Baikal, but excludes indigenous communities living in the region of Buraytia, which are allowed to catch the species for personal use, but with restrictions regarding size of catch and equipment. A special hotline has been established by the government for reporting illegal sale of omul. 

In the period between 1982 to 2003, yearly catch of omul was at stable levels of 2,200 metric tons (MT). Since 2004, volumes have declined, according to governmental organization State Fish Center. In 2015, less than 1,000 MT was caught. With 23,000 to 25,000 MT of omul being available in the lake Baikal in the period of 1985 to 2004, it’s now about only 15,000 MT, what qualifies omul as an endangered species.   

The current moratorium is not the first ban on fishing of omul. Previously, the same step was taken in 1969. A 15-year moratorium led to an effective recovery of the stock. 

In response to the ban, Urkutsk Governor Sergey Levchenko has proposed that theRussian government consider the development of omul farms in cities of Bratsk and Ust-Ilimsk 

“Development of aquaculture here will help both fill the demand-supply gap and recover the stock in Baikal,” Levchenko said in a recent media report.

Contributing Editor reporting from Saint Petersburg, Russia

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