Kaliningrad revisited

Kaliningrad has changed considerably in the last two decades but it remains a hub for fishing technology.

Fourteen years ago I went to Kaliningrad to receive an honorary degree from the Kaliningrad State Technical University (KSTU). It was soon after the collapse of the Soviet economic and political system.

The old Hanseatic city of Koenigsberg, devastated by bombs, was renamed Kaliningrad when, after WWII, East Prussia was divided between USSR and Poland. The Soviet administration replaced the ruins with many featureless but enormous buildings. Although a major commercial port and fishing fleet base, my impression of Kaliningrad at that time was of a drab, unclean and neglected city.

Last May, KSTU invited me to deliver a plenary lecture on a conference dedicated to the 85th birthday of the late Prof AL Fridman, who for over 30 years served as its Chair of Commercial Fisheries, and to the 95th anniversary of the establishment by Prof FI Baranov, of the fishing technology institute at the Moscow VNIRO (the Soviet equivalent to the American NOAA).

The institute was later moved to Kaliningrad to develop into the KSTU, much through Fridman's efforts.

After 14 years, I hardly recognised the city. While only a few of its architectonic gems have been restored, Kaliningrad is now a modern, booming and rather jolly city, with modern office and residential buildings, luxury hotels and half-a-million inhabitants. It even boasts the world’s richest amber museum set in an old fort.

 Although the Russian Atlantic distant-waters fleet is now a fraction of what it used to be under the Soviet regime, Kaliningrad is still a major fishing centre and a hub of training in marine affairs, general fisheries and fishing technology, and of fishing equipment production. It also houses a busy flume tank.

Alexander Lvovich Fridman, while still a junior in the VNIRO establishment, despite an official veto used personal contacts to test trawlnet models in the aero-dynamic tube of the Soviet air force in Leningrad. Following his insubordination he was sent to work as fishing technologist at the Murmansk fishing base.

His skills and talent having been recognised, he became the chief fishing engineer of the mammoth Soviet northern fishing fleet, was eventually selected to replace Baranov’s successor as Chair of the KSTU Department of Commercial Fisheries and the rest is history. One may read all about it in one of Prof Fridman’s books, ‘World Fisheries: what’s to be done?’ published by Baird in Australia in 1998.

With the shrinking of the Kaliningrad fishing fleet, both the KSTU and the local Marine Academy veered off also into non-fishing and non-marine domains. Nevertheless, the KSTU Fisheries Faculty, which over the years had trained many hundreds of specialists now employed all over Eastern Europe, Russia, and also many who came from the Third World, remains the main academic-level fisheries school of Russia.

This May conference offered the opportunity to Russian fishery scientists and technologists to present their recent work and findings.

The plenary speakers,  Professors MM Rozenshtein, GM Dolin (Faculty Dean), and AA Nedostup (Chair), dedicated their presentations to the contributions of Fridman and his followers to fisheries sciences and technology, while I spoke of the 90 years that passed since FI Baranov’s appearance on the world’s fisheries scene to the contemporary fisheries management and its problems. A 454-page book with proceedings of the conference’s over 60 papers (in Russian with English abstracts) was produced.

Apart from the plenary there were two sessions, one devoted to resources and their exploitation and the other to the methods of calculation and design of fishing gear. Some of the presentations would certainly be of interest also to non-Russian fishery industries and science.

For example, OM Lapshin of VNIRO described follow-up studies to AL Fridman's baseline definitions of commercial fishing systems. The main recommendation based on in-depth analysis of fishing surveys and stock assessments, as carried out in Russia, is that the use of mathematical modelling for commercial stocks' assessment is of little effect, without constructing a commercial-ichthyologic model that would comprise data also on distribution and behaviour of the surveyed populations. 

AV Nikolaev and M Yu Kuznetsov reported on hydro-acoustic survey of polar cod summer-autumn fishery in the Bering and Chukotsk seas, and on the observed considerable fluctuations in the abundance and extent of the distribution of this, short living species (over 2 million tonnes in 2003 and less than 200,000 tonnes in 2007), a variation ascribed to increased temperature.

Large fishable stocks of the polar cod in the north of the Bering Sea can be expected only in relatively cold years. The authors warn that the quantitative assessment might well be underestimated; because of this fish accumulating also beyond the surveyed area.

According to a paper criticising the low power and capacity of survey trawlers, survey vessels should be among the most powerful, powered with 7,000-8,000 hp, 130m bpp, and equipped with 140-150 x 80-100 m midwater trawlnets to be towed at 5-6 knots, and able to process and carry large catches, simply because only major fishing success may convince commercial skippers to follow the survey vessels' recommendation.

In a timely visit to Fishering, a local gear-maker company, conference participants were told that it recently designed and was marketing allegedly the world’s largest midwater trawl.

Also, a company named KBME Vector of Taganrog reported on a development of an automatic system controlling vessel navigation and manoeuvres and providing the skipper with recommendations and information respective aimed trawling and purse seining.

 It is designed for large and medium-scale fishing vessels and is based on integration of several hydro-acoustic and electronic monitors, data recording units and logistic executive units (eg, for collision prevention). It's assumed to contribute to improving fishing efficiency and fuel saving. Another interesting Vector system was a panoramic echosounder.

Another Russian development in the making is the use of sound to attract and guide finfish and squid into fishing gear. The idea is that instead of electric hydro-acoustic instrumentation, the sound mimicking that issued by moving schools of small pelagics is pneumatically generated.

On this evidence, Russian fisheries science and technology is clearly thriving.

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