CLP Award Winners: Sustaining Wild Salmon Populations in Russia

The Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) recently announced this year’s award-winning projects. Through these awards, 30 teams of conservationists in 19 countries around the world will receive CLP funding for projects as diverse as wild yak conservation on the Tibetan Plateau and ecosystem threat assessments in Mexico’s tropical rainforests. In this guest blog, Sergei Didenko from the Sakhalin Salmon Initiative discusses his team’s work to educate communities and ramp up conservation efforts for the Sakhalin taimen (Hucho perryi), a critically endangered salmon species.

For the last five years, our organization has fought to save wild Pacific salmon in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. After conducting research with leading Russian scientists, we have come to an unsettling conclusion: the Sakhalin taimen, whose habitat is limited to rivers in far eastern Russia and Japan, is rapidly approaching extinction.

The Sakhalin taimen is one of the world’s most ancient species of salmon. (Photo: © Dmitry Didenko)

The Sakhalin taimen is the largest salmon in the world — an ancient species that has been around since the age of the dinosaurs. Born in freshwater habitats, the adult fish make annual migrations to the sea for feeding, returning back to fresh waters for spawning.

On Sakhalin Island just north of Japan, wild salmon fishing is the second-largest industry, supplying 20 percent of global Pacific salmon catch and generating $500 million in personal income annually.

Although the Sakhalin taimen isn’t regularly fished as a commercial species, it is often caught during the spawning season of other salmon species. In addition, taimen numbers are being reduced by poaching by local populations and tourists. Our research has found a general lack of awareness in local communities and government authorities about these fish.

This year, the Sakhalin Salmon Initiative has conducted a number of educational and outreach events to foster an active local population and engage members of district salmon councils — local authorities that bring together stakeholders from across the region to make decisions about watershed management.

A researcher catches Sakhalin taimen to collect data. All fish caught were returned to the water. (Photo: © Dmitry Didenko)

Among these events was a five-day training program for local leaders on the integrated management of water resources. The training allowed local conservation leaders to form relationships with authorities and begin preparation of long-term plans for environmental protection measures such as the restoration of river banks and establishing public anti-poaching crews.

Another important step was a series of seminars in local communities, during which a group of nine experts determined interest levels of local citizens regarding work on preserving salmon habitats and identifying threats to threatened fish species.

Later this year, a number of scientific expeditions will explore the northern rivers of Sakhalin to gather more information on the current state of the Sakhalin taimen population. The data will become a basis for correcting environmental protection plans and strategies of salmon councils. Researchers are planning to complete trips to at least five Sakhalin districts.

We are confident that our efforts will not only reduce poaching in rivers, but will give local people the opportunity to take an active role in environmental protection measures that will lead to saving the population of Sakhalin taimen.

The Conservation Leadership Programme is a partnership of CI, BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International and the Wildlife Conservation Society. All award-winning team members will become part of the CLP alumni network that supports approximately 3,500 conservation leaders. Read other guest blogs from CLP award winners.

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