There are much fewer vendace in Lake Peipus this year than before, and this year's fishing quota, which has already been filled, is lower than those of previous years as well. Fishers in Estonia suspect that their counterparts on the Russian side are ignoring the quota and continuing to catch the small whitefish unheeded.
Last year, Estonia and Russia agreed via the joint Estonian-Russian Fisheries Commission to a vendace quota of 45 tons per side of Lake Peipus this year.
Vendace fishing began on July 1, and by July 10, Minister of Rural Affairs Urmas Kruuse (Reform) had already issued a directive halting this year's fishing, as 44.1 tons, or more than 90 percent of this year's quota, had already been caught on the Estonian side. Under the Fishing Act, the minister is to halt fishing once at least 90 percent of an annual quota has been exhausted.
The Ministry of the Environment told ERR that it's typical for Estonia's vendace quota to be filled quickly.
"The length of fishing depends on weather conditions and quota size," said Margus Salundi, chief specialist at the ministry's Fisheries Department. "Estonian fishers have a great capacity for quickly catching the full vendace quota."
As recently as last year, Estonia's vendace quota for Lake Peipus was 80 tons, or nearly as much as both of this year's two quotas combined.
Regardless of quota size, however, professional fishers on Estonia's largest transboundary lake suspect that their counterparts on the opposite, Russian shore are disregarding quotas and continuing to fish for vendace even after their annual quota is filled.
OÜ Kallaste Kalur told ERR that everyone has long since known that on the Russian side, vendace continues to be caught despite the quota.
"All my life they have continued overfishing on top of the quota," the company's CEO said. "You can see it in customs data — look at what's going on. This messing around happens every year."
According to the CEO, once quotas are filled, vendace continue to be brought into Estonia from across the border. "It clearly isn't Estonian vendace being sold here right now," they said.
Salundi, however, noted that Estonia's Ministry of the Environment doesn't have any data regarding quota violations on the part of Russian fishers.
"The submission of fishing data between parties is agreed upon at the meeting of the Estonian-Russian Fisheries Commission," the ministry official said. "According to that data, the Ministry of the Environment doesn't have any info indicating that Russia is fishing vendace in excess of the agreed-upon quota."
Nonetheless, he acknowledged that they have no idea whatsoever what fishing monitoring looks like in Russia. "It's difficult to assess the Russian side's monitoring, as Estonia's Ministry of the Environment does not conduct monitoring in another country's waters," he said.
Kallaste Kalur's CEO said that this is something that everyone knows about, including state agencies. "It's an issue that no one really wants to address," they said.
Fewer vendace than before
According to Estonia and Russia's shared data, vendace stocks in Lake Peipus have decreased, which is why this year's fishing quota was also smaller than in previous years.
Salundi said that Estonia is not currently cooperating with Russia, however fishing data is still being exchanged.
"And both sides are conducting routine fish stock studies agreed upon at last year's Fisheries Commission meeting in order to agree on quotas for next year," he added.
Vendace numbers in Lake Peipus, however, have dwindled over the years.
"The abundant 2016 generation accounted for the bulk of the lake's population," the ministry official said. "The generations to follow have been smaller in number, and stocks have thus decreased. Vendace numbers depend first and foremost on spawning conditions as well as on how many predator fish are in the lake. In winter 2020 and 2021, Lake Peipus didn't have the type of ice cover that would have provided vendace with good spawning conditions."
Next years vendace quota will be determined once researchers have conducted test fishing and gained an overview of actual conditions in Lake Peipus, Salundi said.
Editor: Aili Vahtla