Omul are endemic to Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake on the planet, but serious concern has been expressed over the fish’s future. A total ban on industrial fishing for the whitefish could be imposed from next year in the lake and inflowing Selenga River. A decision is expected on 10 October by the Scientific and Technical Council of the Russian Ministry of Agriculture.
The omul, also known as Baikal omul, is a whitefish species of the salmon family endemic to Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia. It is considered a delicacy and is the object of one of the largest commercial fisheries on Lake Baikal. In 2004, it was listed in Russia as an endangered species.
Officials from Gosrybtsentr (State Fishing Centre) warn of a significant decline in omul from between 23,000 and 25,000 tons in the years 1985-2004, and 14,000 to 15,000 tons now. Gosrybtsentr official Vladimir Peterfeld, said: ‘A steady decline in the number of omul has been observed recently in Lake Baikal. This is directly related to the decrease in the total number of spawning stock entering the rivers [around Baikal]. So now the question of a reducing the population is very acute.’
Unemployment among residents living close to the lake means people ‘are forced to feed themselves’ through illegal catches of omul. Pictures: @zur_zvezdochet, Vladimir Kolesnikov
He added: ‘Currently, the local department of fishing surveillance is physically unable to keep the situation under surveillance as as well as in the 1980s. Then staff numbers were three times more.’
Unemployment among residents living close to the lake means people ‘are forced to feed themselves’ through illegal catches of omul.
In theory a temporary ban on fishing is imposed now. It runs from 15 August until November, yet locals have not stopped fishing. The fish – including its caviar – is seen as a delicacy. Along with Baikal seals, the fish is one of the great symbols of the world famous lake.
Innokenty Yegorov, first deputy in the government of the Republic of Buryatia, said: ‘Look at the Kabansky motorway. As far as Irkutsk region people openly sell omul.
‘During and before the spawning period – and after, too. Nobody deals with withdrawing of the caviar from sale. People pass on the road. Stop, buy, and drive on.’