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What to do with pollock while China is closed?

Pollock fishing is in full swing, Chinese ports are still closed for Russian fish products, storage capacities in the Far East are about to be exhausted, and there is not enough processing capacity. But there is no reason for panic, says the ex-head of the Federal Agency for Fishery Andrey Krainy.

Each new year of the Russian fishing industry begins with the world's largest Sea of ​​Okhotsk pollock fishing season, which lasts until mid-spring. More than one hundred and thirty ocean-going fishing vessels at this time annually catch up to 20% of all Russian fish. In the first fishing season, it is planned to catch almost one million tons of pollock and produce at least 550 tons of finished fish products from it, 80% of which is usually sold to China. Now, due to the temporary closure of Chinese seaports for foreign fish due to the risk of the spread of coronavirus infection, it is not clear what to do for Russian fishermen. We talked with the President of the Russian Fishing Sports Federation Andrei Krainy.

What to do with pollock while China is closed?
Photo: EastRussia

 - Andrey Anatolyevich, at one time you headed the Federal Agency for Fisheries for many years, you know the fish industry firsthand. Now you can analyze the processes in the economy and as a financier. How do you assess the current events in the Russian fishing industry in connection with the temporary closure of Chinese seaports for foreign fish products? 

- Without a doubt, in connection with the Chinese "fish lockdown" an acute situation arises for Russian fishermen. Events require thoughtful and coordinated decisions. Moreover, in my opinion, a serious lesson should be learned from this and appropriate adjustments can be made to the strategies and plans for the development of fisheries.

- In the Far East in the period from January to April, it is impossible to unload such large-scale volumes of fish from ships and store on the Russian coast, there are not so many freezing warehouses. The holds of the fishing vessels will also soon be full. Will the Chinese "fish lockdown" lead to a temporary large-scale shutdown of fishing in the Russian Far East?

- Of course, there will not be a complete stop of fishing, but downtime of vessels is possible. This will negatively affect the economy of fishing enterprises, and may not allow fishermen to catch the total allowable volume of pollock in the current year. In other words, Russian pollock fish products may decrease this year, and this, alas, after a while may be reflected in prices on the domestic market. Let's see how events unfold. Whether numerous refrigerators are needed for the entire volume of the annual catch of aquatic biological resources of the Far Eastern seas is a moot point. Commercial objects are built for private money and not for one situation, therefore, for an entrepreneur, economic sense is needed in everything. It is obvious that we need different and reliable sales markets, and not “cities of refrigerators” full of fish.

- Spring is approaching, and with it the second most important Pacific salmon fishing season for Russian fishermen. Throughout the Far East in 2020, the catch of Pacific salmon amounted to only about 300 thousand tons, although a record was reached a year earlier - 676 ​​thousand tons. I would like to hope that this year the catch will be good. Nevertheless, due to the sanitary and epidemiological situation, no one guarantees that China will let Russian red fish into its ports. What should Russian fishermen do in this case?

- The answer is obvious, already today think over where it is profitable to sell red fish in case of problems with China. Reality dictates - it's time to change habits, look around and see that there is also life beyond the “gates of the Celestial Empire”.

- Taking into account the temporary closure of Chinese seaports for foreign fish products, does it make sense to adjust the indicators of the project to increase the volume of Russian fish exports and create conditions for increasing the volume of sales of food products from Russian fish raw materials on the Russian domestic market?

- I am convinced that a strong country is, first of all, a strong domestic market for the production and consumption of its own products from its raw materials. Yes, competition is needed, it makes you move and work better. But when we talk about food and safety, then the priority is always the manufacturer - this is an axiom. Plans for a sharp increase in the volume of exports of Russian fish products, in monetary terms almost twofold, were drawn up under the same conditions, and now we see that the issues of food security and food prices are acquiring a special social character. The situation in the world makes you think about yourself first. Therefore, you should carefully analyze your fish counter and clear the way for Russian fish.

- For many years there has been a discussion about how to transfer fish caught in the Far Eastern seas to the center of the country, where the bulk of the population lives, instructions are given, decisions are made, but things are still there. What is the reason?

- In my opinion, no one is generally responsible for this area of ​​work, there is no personal responsibility. Yes, many have been talking about this topic for at least ten years, but what is the result? The railway with fish continues to operate according to its own laws and with its own interests, alternative transportation along the Northern Sea Route has not yet been properly organized, and there are also many bosses here. And the fish manufacturers, wholesale buyers and fish carriers need one thing - to guarantee the stability of the functioning of several internal transport corridors, including a reliable traffic schedule, reasonable prices and quality of transportation along them. In general, there is still work to be done by both government agencies and businesses.

- And yet what to do with pollock while China is closed?

- I must say right away that pollock is a cool low-fat fish of the cod family, it costs three times cheaper than cod, white meat, the whole line of minerals, vitamins and unsaturated fatty acids that have a beneficial effect on the human body. Any doctor or nutritionist will confirm that pollock is a fish for health and good mood. With proper preparation, it has an amazing delicate taste - you will lick your fingers. And I will answer your question. The solution to the "Chinese problem" that has arisen with the sale of Russian pollock depends on mutual understanding between the state and business, on the awareness of common interests in, frankly, an emergency. And also from the organization on both sides. Look, in the state and municipal system of the Russian Federation there are at least three public catering institutions: institutions of preschool and school education, as well as hospitals. In Russia alone, the proportion of children and adolescents under the age of 18 is 22,4% of the total population. That is, these educational institutions are visited daily by at least 25 million people. In general, in the EAEU countries this figure is somewhere at the level of 30 million. Even if everyone eats 100 grams twice a week. pollock, then in a year it is possible to sell to these institutions only in Russia more than 325 thousand tons of pollock (in the weight of finished products). Now the year has begun, state and municipal funding, tender procedures are just beginning to unfold, so maybe in these circumstances it makes sense for the government to make an appropriate prompt decision to provide these institutions with food from Russian pollock. At the same time, all competitive procedures, of course, will remain, only the state target setting for customers will appear - Russian pollock. But there are also hospitals, the army and the navy, and other power structures. Then all these organizations will get used to it, and here's the result - half a million tons of our pollock in finished products is guaranteed to be sold annually on the domestic market of Russia and the EAEU countries. But there is also a retail market, which also sells several hundred thousand tons of pollock every year. So, I do not see any impasse in the current situation. Moreover, this is a chance to conquer the domestic market and finally raise the collapsed fish consumption in the country.

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