Kamchatka Steelhead Project -2020

The Conservation Angler and our travel and outfitter partners canceled the 2020 Field Research Program due to COVID-19 Precautions and restrictive international travel issues.

Photo of KSP Guide Justin Miller by Todd Harris (2019)

However, In order to prevent or reduce the incidence of poaching on wild steelhead returning to KSP rivers, The Conservation Angler and Moscow State University planned and have executed an anti-poaching and limited scientific field season. Please take a moment to read our operation plan.

2020 Anti-Poaching/Research Plan: Fall Season- September-October

Moscow State University – The Conservation Angler – Joint Kamchatka Steelhead Program.

Preface.

The Kamchatkan steelhead are among the last purely natural, native population assemblage in the world. These pristine stocks are the last of their race in the Pacific Rim which have remained free of industrial use, hatcheries and genetic pollution. The local stocks inhabiting the Kamchatkan rivers retain their historical geomorphic structure. Kamchatkan steelhead represent a unique natural resource that are a showcase of natural diversity that highlights a unique system of adaptations in the changing environment. From 1994 to the present, Moscow State University and The Conservation Angler (and its predecessor, the Wild Salmon Center) have conducted annual scientific expeditions studying these unique steelhead/rainbow population assemblages. These multi-year expeditions have led to many groundbreaking discoveries dealing with Kamchatkan steelhead-rainbow complex and their relationships with North American relatives. The results of these studies and research include multiple peer-reviewed published papers in the scientific and popular magazines. The KSP partners (TCA and MGU) continue to mount annual field expeditions.

Field Science Photo by Todd Harris

From the very beginning of our joint work in 1994, it has been obvious that Kamchatkan steelhead need thorough protection. The main threat to these populations is industrial level poaching from both local and transient illegal fishers. The Good News: Kamchatkan steelhead are a protected species listed in the Russian Red Data Book which strictly prohibits any kind of targeted killing. The Bad News: in the absence of strong anti-poaching effort, steelhead are subject to illegal harvest in these remote rivers where enforcement is difficult and expensive. As a rule, steelhead are not an object for direct sale on the market because their value is rather low as the expense to get it is high. However, in the past, steelhead were for many years an “Executive gift” given as a sign of exceptional respect. That is why every year teams of poachers make plans to secure some steelhead. In response, to keep the Kamchatka Steelhead Project sustainable and to protect these unique wild steelhead stocks – MGU and TCA must put as much effort for conservation as is possible.

In recent years, another threat to wild steelhead appeared. For more than 25 years there was little interest for steelhead as an angling target for fly fishermen from Russia and other countries. Because of Red Data Book status, most anglers and outfitters recognize the danger of illegal operations. Perhaps due to the high visibility of the KSP, in the last 1-2 years we have seen a rise in under-the-carpet activity by local tourist firms to bring anglers who fish for steelhead while purporting to cover it under permitted coho/charr fishing. As a result, KSP must enhance our efforts to prevent illegal angling.

Background

The experience of our years in the field show that the scientific expedition together with camp infrastructure already is a significant factor that limits poaching. Poachers usually deploy gill nets in river pools. Their access depends upon the use of heavy ATV vehicles which, in turn, makes enforcement easier as the poacher’s presence is easily detected. Anti-poaching efforts require every-day patrolling of the river and looking for any signs of poaching like trampled grass on the riverbanks, fresh ATV tracks, new sticks hammered in the gravel bar etc. As soon as something suspicious is discovered, armed enforcement personnel will conduct a precise search of the area.

The Plan

Out team will consist of two teams: a “scout” party and “enforcement” group consisting of armed federal fisheries enforcement personnel headed by a senior enforcement officer from headquarters in Moscow. This work is potentially dangerous and poachers themselves are typically armed. In 2001, a group of poachers murdered the fish inspector assigned to the KSP – Sergey Lamzov. For this reason, the enforcement team accompanying our expedition will be heavily armed and have arrest authority.

Based upon our experience over previous years, we know that poaching is conducted by a small number of personnel who fish for short periods. However, because steelhead are concentrated, even a small number of poachers fishing for only a few days can cause significant harm to the population – killing 50-100 fish a day at least. Thus, our Scout team will patrol the river every day, including periods of bad weather and flooding. It means that we can run our scientific data sampling along with river patrolling.

First Stage: Preliminary Activity.

The best way to protect wild steelhead is to deter the poachers in the first place. We are publicizing our anti-poaching program for this fall, including especially the strong presence of enforcement personnel with arrest authority. Ideally, this will dissuade poachers from even mounting poaching trips and risking arrest/detention in the first place. Before departing for the field, we will make it known to local people of the presence of our armed Inspector (in the uniform with arms) so that every person knows that this year will be different with a serious enforcement group. The goal is to spread this information as far as possible which will spread very quickly between small towns and within towns.

Field activity.  

Given the conditions of having a small expedition, we still must accomplish as much as possible. The basic camp will be on the Utkholok River, but this year we will have ATV track with us, which allow to make a trip to the Kvachina-Snotalvayam areas.

The routine operations will consist of our standard angling/data collection operations upstream and downstream from the basic camp. In the first 1-2 days of expedition we plan “to produce a big show” and make intensive boat trips on the river to demonstrate that “we are here.” During the next days we will hike (assuming normal baseflow conditions) instead of using boats. Hiking and fishing could provide silence and stealth in searching for any poachers.

Photo by Todd Harris

Utkholok.

1 angler – downstream, 1 – upstream. Whole day on the river, lunch on the bar. At the end of the day the boatmen will gather both. In case of poaching immediate call to the base camp boatmen who will bring the armed Inspector to arrest the poachers. Boat noise in the evening will show to poachers that “we are here”. The patrolling area – from White Bluff down to top of the tidal region — about 30 km of the river. In case of flood we will use a technique of float with no engine working. If possible, we will use 2 people downstream and 2 upstream. The downstream reach from the Base camp part is critically important, so given a choice we will work 2 downstream and 1 upstream. Upstream reaches can be monitored from Base as we can hear the noise of ATV for a long distance.

Kvachina.

In 4-5 days after we start work, we will dispatch a small group (ATV crew and 2 scientists, 1 armed Inspector) to Kvachina/Snotalvayam to stay 3-5 days in this area. Our cabin site on the Kvachina is situated to monitor both rivers. KV-SN is placed in the opened area and we can patrol rivers using ATV road.

Every day 1 of us will patrol by ATV on the road to the Forks (Reindeer Base) to monitor the whole river. The second will make a hike to Snotalvayam to survey the lower reaches. The Lower reaches of KV and SN can be observed by good binoculars from the hill. It is possible hear ATV at distance from the top of one of the hills on the right bank of KV. In case of poaching, the Fisheries Enforcement will begin their engagement with our help. We plan to stay 4-6 days on the KV-SN and make 2-3 trips from UT to KV-SN.

As a variant, 2 of us can remain on KV-SN to keep patrolling when the ATV returns to UT. Our people at KV-Sn would watch for poachers who may think the river is free of sentinels. In this case we can hold two camps, being in a close communication by satellite phones or other types.

The realization of this plan depends on various conditions. In a full scale it could be done 1) when we’ll have no flood or short small flood; 2) if the poaching will be of small scale: 3) if there would be no disasters like ATV break down, shortage of fuel or any staff accident or illness etc.

We will coordinate closely with local authorities, make periodic reports from the field to TCA and our outfitter, Kamchatka Trophy Hunts, with updates and adjustments to plans/operations depending upon actual conditions/situations on the rivers.

Adopted: September 10, 2020

       
Peter Soverel and Kirill Kuzishchin
President, TCA Professor, MGU
KSP co-director   KSP co-director                 

Contact:
Pete Soverel
The Conservation Angler 16430 72nd Ave West Edmond, WA
425-742-4651 (office) soverel@msn.com
       
Phot from Todd Harris (2019)

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