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Wild Salmon Illegally Caught in Russia and Shipped to the U.S.

Russian salmon export figures don’t add up according to TRAFFIC and World Wildlife Fund

WASHINGTON--East Asian countries are importing between 50 and 90 percent more Russian Sockeye salmon than Russia is reporting as caught and much of it is destined for theU.S. according to a new report from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, and WWF.

“American salmon consumers should buy salmon that’s traceable to avoid supporting an illegal and harmful industry," said Bubba Cook, senior fisheries officer for WWF’s Bering Sea and Kamchatka program.  “They should look for salmon products displaying anMSC--Marine Stewardship Council--label, which certifies the salmon is sustainably caught.”

According to the report, illegally caught salmon makes its way to the U.S. via China, which acts as a major low-cost salmon processing center.  Chinese buyers are often reluctant to make up front cash payments to Russian parties, so they buy their fish through brokers in South Korea, who offer low-cost bonded warehouse facilities which serve as duty-free storage areas.

Almost all the salmon shipped into South Korea is shipped out again without being recorded in customs statistics which increases the opportunity for document tampering and makes it more difficult to trace the origin and final destination of the salmon.

Analysis of data from officially published sources reveals that from 2003 to 2005, the estimated excess quantity of Russian Sockeye salmon entering East Asian markets was between 8,000 and 15,000 tons each year, worth $40 to $76 million.

“The Governments of Russia, Japan, China and South Korea need to tighten up on the Russian salmon trade, to distinguish legal from illegal products in the market place and to protect salmon from over fishing,” said Craig Kirkpatrick, TRAFFIC’s East Asia director.  “The Russian Government’s records appear to underestimate the true catch substantially.”

Possible reasons for the underestimate include, illegal catches or lack of accurate catch reporting by fishermen (two components of so-called Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported “IUU” fisheries), or flaws in the Government's reporting system itself.

The report uses mathematical modeling to estimate the discrepancies between the reported catch and import and market data.

“The traded amounts of between 150 and 190 percent of reported catches compare closely with previous estimates that IUU activities in the Russian Far East are 40–60 percent above the officially reported catch,” said Shelley Clarke, author of the report.

Japan is the world’s largest importer of salmon, and imports around half its frozen Sockeye supplies directly fromRussia.

The report recommends a package of measures to bring theFar East salmon fishery and its market under control.

They include stricter government controls on ports and other customs borders; stopping the transfer of salmon cargoes between vessels at sea; better cooperation between Russia and East Asian port state control authorities to monitor all vessels operating in Russian waters and to share information on counterfeiting and other import documentation irregularities; more transparency in the use of bonded warehouse facilities; stepping up of random cargo inspections; and better labeling and traceability of salmon products.


For more than 45 years, WWF has been protecting the future of nature. The largest multinational conservation organization in the world, WWF works in 100 countries and is supported by 1.2 million members in the United Statesand close to 5 million globally. WWF's unique way of working combines global reach with a foundation in science, involves action at every level, from local to global, and ensures the delivery of innovative solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature. Go to to learn more.


•         The new report, Trading tails: Linkages between Russian salmon fisheries and East Asian markets is     available for download as a PDF from

•           TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a joint program of WWF and IUCN – The World Conservation Union.