Last Update: July 2017

Introduction:

The Russian Far East (RFE) Crab FIP is industry-led and, consequently, the Supply Chain Roundtable confines its activities to tracking and monitoring the fisheries and related improvement objectives and to providing advice to the market as required.

Background:

In terms of their commercial value, there are at least 8 species of king and snow crabs in the Russian Far East (RFE) fisheries basin. Annual total allowable catch (TAC) for all crab species in recent years remains at 50­–60 thousand metric tons but staged to grow up to 70 thousand metric tons.

RFE crab is harvested primarily for export to countries including Japan, Republic of Korea, US, People's Republic of China, Canada, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. The majority of these exports are to the first three countries: live and frozen crabs are provided to Japan and the Republic of Korea, and the US receives frozen crabs as well as a relatively small amount of canned crab. 

Since the early 1990s, the fishery has been plagued with illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. However, in recent years many important steps have been taken by the Russian government in cooperation with the fishing industry to address IUU fishing, and the RFE Crab Catchers Association was formed to unite regional fishing companies in combatting IUU fishing and promoting sustainability of crab resources. Estimates for rates of illegal fishing have gone down dramatically since 2008.

Supply Chain Roundtable Participants:

Fisheries and/or FIPs Covered: 

At present, the roundtable focuses on some of the main fisheries for king and snow crabs in fishing zones of the Northern Sea of Okhotsk and Western Bering Sea.

The following FIP is supported and monitored:

For more details on the sustainability status of the fisheries, progress of the FIP, and improvement recommendations, please follow this link.

Current Objectives:

In general, the RFE Crab Supply Chain Roundtable (SR) objectives focus on monitoring sustainability status and issues relating to RFE crab stocks, discussing actions required to engage local producers and the supply chain in the work on fisheries improvements in order to ensure long-term availability of RFE crab on domestic and international markets.

The RFE Crab Supply Chain Roundtable (SR) recognizes the improvements to fisheries management made over recent years, in particular the progress via the RFE Crab Fishery Improvement Project.

However, there are a number of long-standing issues (e.g., fisheries data disclosure and access) that are the responsibility of governments and regulators, where industry can essentially only support and encourage change.

Consequently, the roundtable confines its activities to tracking and monitoring the fisheries and FIP, as well as providing advice to the market as required. Until the above issues have been adequately addressed, the following procurement policies are recommended: 

  1. Source and verify product from the existing FIP.
  2. Adopt procedures (e.g., control document) to avoid IUU product.
  3. Advise existing and potential suppliers regarding the requirement for data transparency/disclosure in supporting publicly recognized FIPs 

Progress Update: 

In recent years, the Russian government, in cooperation with the fishing industry, has achieved considerable improvements in sustainability of the RFE crab fisheries, their monitoring, and their control. At present, the RFE Crab Catchers Association (CCA) is actively involved in a fishery improvement project (FIP) for king and snow crab fisheries in the Northern Sea of Okhotsk and Western Bering Sea. 

The Russian government and its fishery regulatory bodies are aware of the problem of illegal fishing and trade, and they work intensively on its eradication. Russia has built up a modern system of fishery control. These measures seem to be working and the level of trade in illegal crab products has been considerably reduced. The work on strengthening measures to fight illegal fishing continues. In addition, the Russian government initiated a network of bilateral agreements on cooperation with North Pacific import states in prevention of IUU fishing of marine living resources (MLRs). Practical implementation of agreements with South Korea and Japan started in late 2014. Once fully implemented, the network of bilateral agreements should eliminate a lower (but still present) level of IUU crab fishing and trade. 

2014 

In August 2014, representatives of Russian fishery regulatory bodies and fisheries research institutes held a meeting at which both CCA and SFP participated. The Fishery Agency reaffirmed its continued support to industry initiatives in fisheries improvements and their final goal of ecological certification, including provision of public access to information on stock assessment and fisheries management. 

In October 2014, WWF published a report that noted a reduction in the level of IUU crab catches and trade:  "Indeed, levels of illegal crab harvest have fallen from egregiously high amounts that were four times the legal limit in 2006 and 2007 to less than two times the legal limit in 2013. Despite these efforts, illegal crab continues to be harvested in Russian waters, with imports of Russian crab exceeding the official harvest volume by 1.7 times.”

2015 

January – March 

The first RFE Crab Supply Chain Roundtable meeting was convened in Boston during the Seafood Expo North America (formerly Boston Seafood Show) on 15–17 March 2015. For meeting details, follow this link.

CCA reported on its objectives and activities, including the work on the RFE Crab FIP. The FIP work in 2014, in particular, included:

  • Design and implementation of voluntary observer program to collect data on fisheries impact on bycatch species and habitat.
     
  • Participation of CCA vessels in the conduct of annual crab census surveys.
     
  • Participation in the operation of bilateral IUU-prevention agreements with South Korea and Japan.
     
  • CCA decision to enter a pre-certification assessment process at the end of 2015.

Also, CCA proposed a number of new fishing regulatory measures that the Fishery Agency implemented. These included, in particular, new revised minimum levels of daily crab catches by vessels, prohibition of crab pots on board fishing vessels not licensed to fish for crabs, and new seasonal and areal restrictions to protect some crab stocks from potential overfishing.

The SR noted with satisfaction the CCA’s intention to apply for a pre-certification assessment and a significant reduction reported on trade in illegal RFE crabs. In particular, the SR encouraged the CCA to work with SFP and other stakeholders to produce a new report on IUU fishing highlighting and documenting its lower levels. 

April – December 

  • Marine Treasures International joined the RFE Crab SR and became its fourth stakeholder. 
  • CCA published a report on its analysis of the current situation with activities on the reduction of IUU crab fishing and trade, identified existing loopholes, and evaluated their present levels.
  • In September, Russia and the US signed a bilateral agreement on prevention of IUU fishing. "Mark Gleason, executive director of industry group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, said the US/Russia agreement is a step in the right direction toward addressing the problem on a worldwide basis, but hopes the actions will bite into the IUU industry’s operations instead of simply acknowledging the problem with platitudes."
  • In September, CCA published results of its evaluation of current IUU crab fishing and trade and identified existing loopholes. A continued trend in the reduction of IUU fishing and trade was demonstrated. 
  • CCA reported on its program of cooperation with scientific institutes on placing scientists on board their vessels for collection of data for crab stock assessment and monitoring fishery impact on bycatch species and habitat. The program started in 2013 and will continue in 2016.
  • At the November 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in the Philippines, Russia again proposed to introduce a standard certificate of legal origin of seafood in order to prevent IUU fishing and trade.
  • In December, the Seafood Watch report concluded: "The continued prevalence of illegal crab harvesting means that there is high uncertainty about the overall ecological health of Russia’s native crab populations in the Far East. As a result of the continued very high levels of IUU fishing of crabs in the Russian Far East (≥25%), all crabs imported into the United States from the Russian Far East are considered “critical” and thus an “Avoid” recommendation.

2016 

January – March 

In February, CCA initiated pre-certification assessment of fisheries for red king crab, blue king crab, and tanner snow crab in West Kamchatka and Kamchatka-Kurils sub-zones. A report is expected in May–June 2016. 

In March, VNIRO research institute reported that it had developed standard regulation rules for crab and craboid harvesting for 2016­–2018. These standard regulations appear to further develop a standard methodology for crab stock assessment announced in April 2015. The regulations are not yet published. 

In March, an SR Participant and Stakeholder briefing was held at Seafood Expo North America in Boston, MA, USA. 

CCA presented an update on current FIP work and future plans. In particular, CCA reported further reduction of IUU crab fishing and trade in 2015, with the import/catch ratio down to 1.04 from 1.69 reported last year. CCA also reported that it is about to start the MSC pre-assessment process in order to identify potential shortcomings before applying for MSC full assessment. 

SR participants welcomed the CCA report on current levels of IUU crab fishing and trade and highlighted a necessity for Russian regulatory bodies to annually publish official and documented results of their efforts to eradicate IUU crab fishing and trade."  

In March, the Fisheries Agency conducted open discussions of the scientific recommendations for the TAC for 2017. Representatives of the fishing industry, NGOs, and media participated. In particular, quotas for crab fishing in Russia’s Far East could jump 10 percent above the 2016 crab quota, which is set at 68,485 metric tons. The change is due to the increases in red king crab stock off West Kamchatka, queen snow crab in the North Okhotsk sub-zone, and Bairdi crab in Kamchatka-Kuril sub-zone. 

April – June 

In an extended interview published on 9 June 2016, the CCA reported its evaluation of trade in IUU-caught Russian crabs in 2015. When the total crab catch in both Russian Far East and Barents Sea areas is compared with the total import of Russian crabs by foreign countries, the ratio is 1.4. The ratio of the total TAC to import is even smaller, 0.88. These estimates clearly indicate that recent levels of trade in IUU-caught Russian crabs are now close to zero. 

In mid-June 2016, the Russian Fisheries Agency reported on the effective performance of bilateral agreements with North Pacific trade partners on the prevention of IUU crab trade. The Agency referred to the ratio of 0.88 calculated by the CCA as a strong indicator that joint trade control measures implemented by bilateral agreements effectively closed main channels of trade in Russian IUU crabs. 

On 17 June 2016, Russia adopted a law toughening criminal liability for illegal fishing of aquatic bioresources. The law includes provisions for higher fines, terms of corrective labor, as well as imprisonment in the place of arrest. In addition, the definitions of “large” and “major” IUU damage were revised.

 

July – September 

On 3 July 2016, Russia adopted a set of new changes to the 2004 Fisheries Act (as revised on 29 June 2015). Main changes are as follows:

  • Quota share allocation period increases from the current 10 years to 15 years starting 1 January 2019.
  • Current "historic" principle of quota share allocation remains, but 20% of the total TAC will be set aside for allocation as a bonus to shareholders who invest in building new fishing vessels on domestic dockyards and/or fish processing facilities.
  • Investors would be able to use the bonus share only after completion of their investment projects.
  • Current mandatory limit to quota owners for catching not less than 50% of a quota in any two consecutive years by their own vessels was increased to 70% as a measure strengthened to eliminate “rentiers” who hold quota shares but don't own vessels.
  • There will be no more division of fishing areas in coastal and open sea areas. Each quota owner will be required to choose a type of fishery to operate. A fishery selection could later be changed, if required.
  • Quotas for the coastal fishery will be increased by 20 percent in order to stimulate the regional economy by delivering ashore fresh and chilled fish for local processing and sale on domestic markets.
  • Transshipment of coastal catches at sea is prohibited.
  • Coastal fisheries owners should be registered with coastal territory entities.
     

October – December 

As of 1 October 2016, the Crab Catchers Association of the Russian Far East has assumed full responsibility for the FIP implementation including, in particular, publication of FIP public reports. Previous FIP reports are available via the  FIP archive section on sustainablefish.org.

Despite substantial and continued reduction recorded in the total IUU crab harvest and trade in 2015 and 2016, some small but persistent level of IUU fishing continues. With reference to reports of the Far East Coast Guard of the Russia Border Service, 67 vessels were detained for unreported crab fishing in 2015, including 23 foreign vessels, most of which (17) were FOC vessels. In total, 124.7 tons of unreported crabs and crab products were detected aboard foreign vessels and 5.1 tons were detected aboard on Russian vessels. Administrative sanctions were applied to over 2.7 thousand individuals and legal entities, 77 individuals (8 foreigners) were convicted for illegal fishing, and 11 vessels (including 6 flag of convenience (FOC) vessels) were confiscated by the state.

Russian overall crab harvests are up sharply over last year. As of October 26, overall harvests reached 55,140 metric tons, a 14.6-percent climb from last year. Of that total, 47,100 metric tons were provided by the Far East crab fishery, a rise of 12.8 percent over 2015.

Russian crab producers criticized the latest state plans to include crabs in the list of “investment quotas” scheduled to be available in 2018. They argue that approval of this inclusion may result in the resumption of large-scale crab poaching in Russia and will result in the bankruptcies of many of Russian companies that are current crab quota holders.

The CCA completed an assessment of the fishery against the MSC indicators. The assessment showed promising results, with all indicators scored above the minimum level of 60. The assessment summary and more FIP information can be found at the CCA website. CCA is currently involved in planning preparation of certification materials required for full certification. At first, the work will be focused on materials related to Principle 2 (analysis of data collected by scientific observers during the first four years of work on board CCA, mapping of benthic communities and potential identification of VMEs). The second most important work continues to be evaluation of current levels of IUU crab catches and trade. Entry to full certification assessment is planned for 2018. 

2017

SR participants were provided with a written summary update on the status of the RFE crab fisheries and FIP and were invited to meet individually with SFP representatives, where needed, during the Boston Seafood Expo in March. Several participants have requested updates on catch verification requirements and process.

Project Contact:

If you would like more information about the Supply Chain Roundtable or wish to support it, please contact SFP.

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