Fish conservation volunteer: 'Let's do this for a better environment'

Salmon. Source: Melissa Doroquez / Wikimedia Commons

Janek Harik, a volunteer at fish conservationist organization "Vabatahtlik Kalakaitse," appeared on Vikeraadio this morning to discuss the monitoring of illegal fishing activities in Estonia. Harik said, that his involvement with the organization stems from a desire to help ensure the natural diversity of fish in Estonian waters is preserved.

Voluntary fish conservationist organization "Vabatahtlik Kalakaitse" monitors illegal fishing activities, including poaching, which its members help the Environmental Board to keep a handle on.

When one of the volunteers, most of whom are keen anglers themselves, spot what they believe to be illegal fishing activity taking place, their first point of call is to contact the police or Environmental Board to report the incident. In most cases, volunteers are responsible for monitoring specific areas of water, including potential hotspots such as those rivers rich in salmon. However, they also receive regular tipoffs from fellow country folk, of suspicious activity taking place in their local rivers and streams.

Harik admitted that, by themselves, there is often little the volunteers can do to stop illegal fishing, beyond waiting with suspects for the police or an Environmental Board representative to arrive on the scene. Even that requires agreement from those they believe to be fishing illegally.

"We don't get any other reward for doing this," said Harik.

However, if the accused refuses to cooperate and starts to drive away before the police can arrive, volunteers do have the right to pursue them. According Harik, occasional chases have taken place, with some volunteers even being held at gunpoint as a result. Thankfully, such incidences are rare. "Most of the time, things go peacefully," Harik said.

One of the main focuses of the organization is to prevent salmon fishing during the spawning season, as this has a detrimental impact on population size.

According to Harik, those who fish during the spawning season have usually been doing so for decades, and he fears that they may pass on these habits to future generations.

"It's mostly who we might call the old-school guys, the ones who live by the salmon river. They drag their younger relatives along and teach them too. That's the way the chain continues," said Harik.

However, Harik explained that fish conservation in Estonia is not just about saving salmon, but also the protection of pike and crayfish as well as the bream and zander (sander lucioperca) that live in the Emajõgi River. The volunteer even recalled one situation in which a poacher hid crayfish in his underpants.

Harik said, that the main reason he volunteers is to create a better fishing environment for everyone. "I would like my son, and many fathers' sons, to be able to catch their own fish, instead of just having to buy them in shops," he said.

"People could just wait for the month and a half while the fishing ban is in place, and then (after that) go fishing like a human being, instead of killing all these baby fish," Harik continued, conceding that one of the major problems is, that a lot of people are not aware of the fishing laws and so may engage in illegal fishing unknowingly.

"It's really hard for a 70-year-old to find information online," he said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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