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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Fish not biting

Customs Committee drafting a law on licensing fish imports
22 January, 2008 - 00:00
Photo by Mykhailo MARKIV

The Ukrainian fishing industry is in crisis. The share of “living silver” caught by Ukrainian fishermen is rapidly falling to one percent of the total CIS catch, while in Soviet times it was 23 percent. If this situation persists, in a few years we will have to say goodbye to the “national fishing sector,” says Volodymyr Volkov, president of the Akvakultura commercial fishing association.

There are several factors that have brought this industry to its knees. The first and most important one is the complete lack of interest on the part of Ukrainian officials and, hence, serious financial difficulties. As a result, this “lack of professionalism” has robbed the state coffers of tens of millions of hryvnias. At the same time, this money has gone into the hands of poachers, who have driven the fishing market into the shadows. The new government is planning to combat them quite simply, without setting up new agencies. “We will be urging the courts to order seizures of poaching equipment instead of imposing fines. Then every seaman who has had a boat, motor, or net confiscated will think twice about resuming this kind of activity,” Volkov said.

The fishing crisis is also exacerbated by a disorganized import policy, which means that consumers have to buy foreign products that are three to four times more expensive than even Russian ones. Russia accounts for a mere one percent of all Ukrainian fish imports. The rest comes from Lithuania, Latvia, Scandinavia, and other countries. Who stands to gain from this? In any case, not ordinary consumers, who customarily pay through the nose and thereby are providing a trouble-free life for bureaucrats, who keep their snouts in governmental troughs.

The fishing arithmetic seems to be clear to everybody. Still, there have been no concrete results in the past 16 years. Will the new cabinet fare any better? Officials have ambitions to spare. They claim that the Customs Committee is drafting a law on licensing fish imports, although no details have been revealed. Instead, they are offering the public an updated program for the fishing sector.

Its chief anti-crisis item is granting consumers’ associations a long-term concession to manage inland water resources. “There should be two conditions for a concession: fixed payment and annual growth of average-weighed fish in rivers and lakes,” Volkov noted. The concession conditions should be supervised by the tax authorities (payment of a fixed fee) as well as an ecological inspection of the environment ministry or a special cabinet-controlled agency (renewing fish resources). These proposals will be part of a bill that will soon be submitted to parliament. “We have already talked with some members of the relevant parliamentary committee, who are willing to propose and support this bill,” Volkov said.

There are also plans to reestablish the Ukrainian fishing fleet of 40 to 60 vessels. That’s a good idea, but it may remain just that unless $300 million are found. The government won’t find this sum in the budget. The only hope is for private investments. The China Development Bank is ready to invest, provided there is a definite government program that will guarantee the effective utilization of investments and timely payouts. Investors can’t help being worried about the lack of a departmental law that parliament has contrived to discuss only in its first reading in the past 16 years.

By Natalia BILOUSOVA, The Day