Russian crabbers face fallout from controversial USD 2.4 billion quota auctions

A pair of Antey Group crab fishing vessels alongside one another.

Russia's Federal Agency for Fisheries (Rosrybolovstvo) has chosen the winners of its second round of 2023 crab quota auctions.

Russia released the results of the first round of auctions on 16 October, selling quota for multiple species of crab in 27 separate lots. Rosrybolovstvo estimated the auctions would bring in RUB 214.5 billion (USD 2.4 billion, EUR 2.2 billion) to federal coffers and result in the construction of more than 20 crab-fishing vessels and multiple “large logistics complexes” for the fishing industry, as a condition of the sales.

According to Fishnews, Amurrybprom, DVKK, Phoenix, The Pacific Fisheries Company, Sigma Marine, Vostok, Ostrovnoy-Krab, Kalan, Vladcrab and B-Crab – who are members of the Russian Crab Company Group – Far Eastern Crab, Antey Group, and The Eurasion Fish Center won lots in the initial quota auction.

Russia later sold another lot on 10 November to Amurrybprom, giving it 100 percent of the shares of king crab in the South Kuril zone, hairy and snow crab in the Kamchatka-Kuril zone, and gold king crab in the Okhotsk Sea for RUB 6.6 billion (USD 73.9 million, EUR 68.1 million). The company will also be required to build a new fishing vessel in a Russian shipyard as a condition of the sale.

Rosrybolovstvo announced it will hold another auction for four lots of share quota for deep-sea crab on 22 November, with a starting price of RUB 507 million (USD 5.6 million, EUR 5.2 million). Those include quota for red snow crab in the Primorye and West Sakhalin subzones, and angulatus snow crab in the East Sakhalin and North Sea of Okhotsk subzones.

The investments required by the industry in infrastructure will likely amount to more than RUB 500 billion (USD 5.6 billion, EUR 5.1 billion) over the next 15 years, the Russian Association of Crab Harvesters said.

“At this stage it is difficult to make accurate calculations, but this amount shows the real level of costs that investors participating in auctions will incur over a 15-year period,” the association's president, Alexander Duplyakov, told Fishnews.

All Russian Association of Fisheries (VARPE) President German Zverev told Fishnews the budgetary efficiency of the auctions was better than in 2019, and provided a “good result.” He also said that there will be no “crab bubble” and that companies weren’t hit by “irrational optimism” when bidding for the quotas of crab. 

The Antey Group, however, said market conditions for crab will complicate its future business.

“Current economic conditions pose new challenges for us. The European and American markets are closed to us; in Russia, unfortunately, there is no demand for crab consumption; Asia remains the only buyer,” Antey General Director Andrey Polomar told Fishnews. “The Chinese, for example, value and love live crab, but they are not interested in fresh frozen crab. Therefore, we have to develop more and more new logistics routes.”

Polomar said that will be a complicated endeavor.

“This is a complex, labor-intensive and financially expensive process. In addition, we are updating our fleet, building new shelters for live crab, and participating in the social life of the regions where we operate,” Polomar said.

Duplyakov said that the auctions and the investments will mean crab is no longer a “super-profitable” activity. But crab companies may have felt they had no choice but to bid, as the Russian government is planning to include any auction participants who didn’t end up buying any quota shares in a register of “unscrupulous auction participants," without detailing how that list might be used.

The auction revealed the commitment of a variety of players to Russia's crab sector, with results showing ... 

Photo courtesy of the Antey Group

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