Fishermen deny Swedish media charges

  • 2002-12-19

Latvia's fishing industry representatives are indignant over a campaign in Sweden's media regarding volumes of illegal cod fishing in the Baltic Sea, in which Latvia is allegedly involved, and consider these allegations groundless.

Zigmunds Zajanckovskis, president of Banga Seafood, a joint venture of Latvia and Sweden and the largest fish processing company in the Baltic states, told reporters the Swedish party has asked banning cod fishing in the Baltic Sea, but that this proposal was not supported by the Baltic Sea states fisheries committee, which is why a provocative smear campaign in the media has been arranged.

Zajanckovskis said the Swedish media has lately been covering debates on the issue of dwindling cod stocks and possible solutions to the crisis but added that these reports were correct.

But the private television channel TV4 last week aired material shot using candid cameras and including provocative interviews in Poland, Denmark, Sweden and Latvia.

The material explicitly pointed to huge volumes of illegal cod fishing in Latvia - exceeding official quotas by 20 percent 30 percent.

As a possible solution to the illegal cod fishing, the program called on boycotting Latvia's goods produced using the illegally caught cod.

While admitting that illegal cod fishing in the Baltic Sea cannot be completely denied, Zajanckovskis claimed that fishing oversight in Latvia is strong and all fish is purchased legally, while at the same time there are no illegal exports. Therefore, he said, the uproar is groundless.

Zajanckovskis said the uproar may force prices of Latvia's products down, which will result in losses for the company.

Banga Seafood is set to file a complaint with Sweden's law enforcement authorities, he said, but lawyers are still gathering all information.

"There are both material and moral damages," said Zajanckovskis.

Latvia's maritime environment department director Guntis Drunka told reporters that during the first 10 months of 2002 as many as 19 violations by fishermen were registered. During 11 months of the year more than 62 tons of fish have been confiscated, including only 600 kilograms of cod.

Drunka said that in the mid-90s illegal catches accounted for 30 percent of all fishing, but during the past few years the illegal fishing is insignificant and it is not even counted for Latvia while granting quotas.

While also admitting there is undoubtedly illegal fishing, Drunka said there were no grounds to claim it goes uncontrolled.

Latvia's fisheries department head Normunds Riekstins told reporters there was illegal fishing everywhere in the world, while Sweden's attempts to look for the guilty party "on the opposite coast" were groundless.

Riekstins said Latvia had very strong fishing restrictions, of them some were present only in Latvia.

Latvia caught a total of 6,200 tons of cod in the Baltic Sea last year, while next year's quota is expected at some 5,000 tons. Some 90 percent of the cod are exported, and 10 percent are sold locally.