Russia bans indigenous peoples' traditional fishing
On May 29 2016, 250 indigenous Itelmen and Koryaks living in Kovran village in the North of Kamchatka peninsula, traditionally celebrated the day of smelt. A ceremony was held at noon at the mouth of Kovran river, where offerings were made to the river and to the God of the sea Nuzavuch. All participants walked the trail from the mouth of the river to the place in the village where the racks for drying fish stand. But this year, tension hung in the air. Rather than fresh smelt, smelt from last year was hanging from the racks, which surprised the representatives of the Federal Fishing Agency who were closely observing.
In connection with the adoption by the Ministry of agriculture of the Order of 19 April 2016 152, indigenous peoples, including, the inhabitants of Kovran are now prohibited from catching fish, except Pacific and Arctic salmon using net gear, annually between 1 May and 30 September. Net gear means literally everything, including even traditional fishing gear used by the Itelmen such as constipations (wooden fences with net traps). At the same time, for commercial enterprises, smelt fishing nets remain allowed.
Indigenous people gathered signatures to an appeal to the Governor of Kamchatka and the Federal Government. The villagers of the neighbouring villages of Ust-khairyuzovo and khairyuzovo also signed on.
The statement talks about the ancient traditions of local residents in Tigil district, about the importance of smelt to the economy of the villaga Korvan Khayryuzovo, where during that time the traditional preparation of fish stocks for the autumn and winter periods is ongoing.
The appeal says: "... The order of the Ministry of agriculture 19.04.2016 must be revoked. (…) This is what representatives of the aboriginal population of the villages (:..) demand, more so since this is another case of the Ministry of agriculture of the Government of the Russian Federation introducing new restrictions affecting the lives of our peoples without any public debate and are without scientific or other justification".
On Monday, May 30 a village gathering was held in the Culture House protesting the actions of the Federal Fishery Agency benefiting the commercial fishing enterprises which are lobbying them. Participants insisted that the local population has been using nets since life first appeared on Kamchatka.
Considering that the fishing period is short, it was decided a week later, on 6 June 2016, to hold another village meeting. If the authorities will have failed to have taken measures by then, easing the situation, the local population will go to the smelt fishing based on their existing traditions".
The Association of indigenous peoples and of the Union of Obshchinas of Kamchatka sent a telegram to Prime Minister Medvedev also demanding the cancelation of the newly introduced bans.
On 7 June, the Federation Council urgently convened a meeting of the Working Group on Improving the Legislation of the Russian Federation on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Russian Far East during during which a representative of the Ministry of Agriculture said, almost literally, the following:
"We don't know what the traditional way of life and traditional fishing is, we don't know who leads it, because there is no registry of indigenous peoples leading a traditional way of life, we don't know, where traditional fishing can be carried out. Until these issues are resolved, we do not know why and to whom we have to grant permission."
Representatives and supporter of indigenous peoples reported of the grave impacts and demanded the immediate cancellation of the new rules.
In response, the representatives of the Ministry of agriculture said that the changes to the Rules might be reviewed in the autumn, which however does not help to resolve the current food crisis, furthermore, there is no certainty that it actually will and what the result is going to be.