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Russia/Poland: Fishing For The Best Terms Off Kamchatka

Warsaw, 9 January 1997 (RFE/RL) -- This is the time of year when the Russian and Polish state fishing companies and related central administrative bodies meet among each other to decide on fishing quotas for the coming year.

Both countries have large fishing fleets sailing some of the most inhospitable waters of the globe in pursuit of the ever-diminishing fish schools.

With many traditional grounds over-exploited, the arguments about dividing the meager catch can be heated and can boil over into violence, as British-Icelandic and Spanish-Canadian disputes of past years show.

As it happens, one of Poland's staple catches is the "Mintaj", a cod-type fish found in Far Eastern Russian waters.

A widely-held Polish view is that Russia uses this fortuitous location of the Mintaj to pressure Warsaw into concessions in other fields. Officials don't say anything on the record, but privately they point to concessions like more favorable terms for a gas pipeline across Poland, or improved road access to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

An RFE/RL correspondent in Warsaw reports that for this year, the Russian Fishing Industry Ministry has offered Poland a Mintaj quota of 120,000 metric tons from the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea.

Polish Ministry of Transport and Marine Economy spokesman Zbigniew Graczyk says his side has been seeking 135,000 tons for the year, with the catch divided almost equally between those two areas.

But in a move which has perplexed the Poles, Moscow has proposed that most -- some 70 per cent -- of the envisaged quota be caught in the Bering Sea, to the Northeast of the Kamchatka Peninsula.

This is a change from the usual arrangement, under which most of the fish have come from the more enclosed Okhotsk Sea, to the West of Kamchatka.

Moscow says the change is necessary because fish stocks in the Okhotsk need to be replenished after much heavy fishing.

On the subject of conservation, the Poles point out that they have reduced the fleet that sails in the Okhotsk from 36 vessels only two years ago to 22 today -- and not all of those are actually fish catchers.

Fishing in the Okhotsk has a major advantage for the Poles in that it is closer to the South Korean ship repair yards which the Polish vessels use for maintenance while in Far Eastern waters.

They say that the South Korean facilities offer both better and less expensive service than Russian ports, where prices of parts, basic foods, fuel and medicines are very high.

Russian and Polish officials hope to iron out their differences over the elusive Mintaj soon.