EXPLOITING THE ENVIRONMENT TO REBUILD ECONOMY

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The expansion of market-economic activity in the Russian Far East is endangering the region's fish reserves, environmentalists warn.

Russia's transition to a market has put pressure on local officials. Desperate to find new funding sources, authorities in the Far East are making deals without taking into account the long-term consequences of their actions, says Dmitry Litvinov, the Moscow-based representative of Greenpeace.

"The old government structures are trying to adjust to the new conditions, and that means they need to get dollars," Mr. Litvinov says. "The result is that the resources in the region are being exploited."

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Fisheries in Far East have been decimated in recent years, as both foreign and domestic fishing fleets have taken advantage of high quotas set by local officials, Greenpeace and local ecologists say.

The ecologists claim that the regulatory agencies in the Far East are ineffective. Officials are reluctant to do anything about overfishing because such measures would reduce hard-currency earnings, environmentalists charge. Foreign fishing fleets also are finding regulatory barriers can be skirted by offering bribes.

"The poor economic conditions affect everyone, and that means people can be bought," said ecologist Lyudmila Preobrazhenskaya. "Thus the people who are obliged to protect nature are starting to poach from it."

Yuri Kiridon, head of Primorrybvod, a state organization that oversees Far-East fishing, admits that his agency faces budget problems, but denies impropriety. He says ecologists exaggerate danger to fishing stocks. "The stocks have stabilized," he says.

To offset possible lasting damage to the fisheries, Greenpeace has suggested boosting tariffs on fish and fish products to finance inspection teams and restructuring regulatory agencies to improve resource management.

A new aquaculture policy also must be implemented to replenish depleted stocks, says Boris Preobrazhensky, chief of the underwater landscape lab at the Pacific Institute of Geography. The region's ocean ecosystem must be rebuilt from the bottom of the food chain up, he says. Seaweed, shrimp, and sea urchins must be cultivated to raise fish levels.

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