report has been written on the request of the mayor Aitpai
Kusherbai of Aral Region. In a meeting on the 25th of
February 2000, the mayor requested us (the fishery project) to
prepare a report on the fishery of flounder in the Aral Sea. The
mayor expects the project to account for the potentials in a fully
developed flounder fishery. Further, we were instructed to present
the matter as openly as possible. By this we also understand that
we should include possible critiques of the private- and public
administration in the region. This openness is hereby attempted.
report is produced by the Danish co-ordinator of the project, Kurt
Bertelsen Christensen. It is written in Danish, and translated
into English by Henrik Jøker Bjerre (the English version is
hereafter considered the original document), and into Russian by
Zhanna Makhambetovna Tairova.
1995, a Kazak delegation from the Aral region visited Denmark, and
during this visit a protocol and an agreement of co-operation were
signed, which together formed the basis of the fishery project
”From Kattegat to Aral Sea”. The aim of this Danish/Kazak
fishery project it became to develop a sustainable fishery for
flounder in the Aral Sea to the benefit of the fishermen and the
fishery communities around the Small Aral. This aim was to be
reached mainly through a massive Danish economical and fishery
professional support to the Kazak fishermen living in the Aral
1996, the project has been active in the region, and the fishery
has become active in the Aral Sea – especially many places in
the Small Aral have become fishing places. The following headlines
describe the activities since 1996:
In 1996, a cargo with fishery equipment, among other things
1000 new nets, was transported from Denmark to the Aral region,
and a trial fishery was conducted with good results.
In 1997, 22 smaller and independent fishery co-operatives
In 1998, trial fisheries were again conducted, and
experiments of sales of quality flounder in Almaty were carried
In 1998, a major biological program was carried out in the
Small and the Big Aral.
Towards the end of 1998, a society named ”Aral Tenizi”
was founded, and was formally established in a general assembly in
1999. Today, the society counts ca. 650 paying members.
In 1999, another transport with equipment was sent out,
counting around 800 nets and materials for another 1000, together
with various other kinds of equipment, including 50 computers, in
a cargo of ca. 19 ton from Denmark to Aralsk.
should be made clear from the beginning that the stock of flounder
in Aral is very much depending on external influences, since we
are dealing with a new species of fish in a quite limited area.
The flounder was introduced in the late 1970´s, i.e.
approximately 25 years ago. This fact means that it can be
difficult to predict anything about the stock, it being so rapidly
build up. Therefore this report should be taken with some
reservation, and all conclusions are understood to tacitly begin
”It seems that…”.
uncertainty should be considered in the context of the constant
influences, which the stock meets. In this connection it is
interesting that the influences from human beings, first of all
through the fishery, counts as a modest factor. It is very unusual
that the fishery is not first in line, when these questions are to
be answered. The usual situation, for instance in Danish waters,
is that the influence from the fishery amounts to more than 50 %
of the overall influence.
Danish waters, the pollution is also a significant factor, and
effects to a greater or lesser extent the individual stocks. In
the Aral Sea it is not the fishery and the pollution, but the
natural influences that play the most important role – that is,
if you leave out of account the dam between the Small and the Big
dam however does play a significant role, maybe not for the size
of the flounder stock, but for the placement of the flounder in
the Small and Big Aral, respectively. The dam, and latest it's
collapse in 1999, does mean a lot. It is not possible to state it
percentage, but the dam means a significant difference, if not
even everything, for the situation of the flounder during the year.
The salinity is immensely important to the success of the flounder
the dam and the relatively modest fishery embody the human factor,
since we evaluate the influence of pollution to be of minimal
the natural influences, the amount of water that flows into Aral
from the Syr Darya river is important, as well as the time and
strength of the winter frost – these are the natural influences
that effect the evaluation of stock.
and potential of catches
biological/etiological investigations of the flounder stock in
Aral are few and limited in range. But nevertheless we may
conclude that the stock of flounder in Aral is significant, and
that it is in position of good living conditions. This conclusion
is drawn from the catches themselves, and on the average of number
of pieces of flounder caught per net since 1996. A biological
investigation in the Small, as well as the Big, Aral in the autumn
of 1998 confirms this conclusion. This investigation also shows
that the flounder is really leading a ”spoiled” life, since
the fishery is quite modest, and the natural enemies are very few.
1996, a relatively large amount of knowledge has been build up
about the many places in Small Aral, where nets have been pulled,
and where it has appeared to be the case that the amount of
flounder per net is significant. From this accumulated knowledge
we estimate that it will be possible to catch in-between 1500-3000
ton of flounder per year. If the total catches reach 1500 ton,
there should be kept an attentive eye to the development in the
catches towards the 3000 ton. An attentive eye here means: Weekly
estimations that can have the fishery stopped, if it seems to be
threatening the sustainability.
amount of flounder in the Small Aral is varied around the coasts
of Aralsk, and to the west at Tastubek, Akesbe, Akbasty, the north
west of Kokaral, and from the delta along the east coast to
Aralsk. The biggest amounts, around 75 % of the total, are found
the west part of the Small Aral, from Tastubek/Akesbe in the east,
and along the coastlines to Akbasty and the north coast of Kokaral.
The remaining parts are spread along the coastline between the
delta and westwards to Tastubek. The difference between west and
east, we explain in the fact that the western part apparently has
the right concentration of salt, the right depths, and not the
least probably the right temperatures in the season of spawning.
life cycle of the flounder: In the period april-august, the
flounder is living in the sea on the deepest water. It leaves
shore in the beginning of March, depending on the temperature of
the water, which also determines, when the flounder is spawning.
Some time April, it should usually have finished spawning.
the spawning season there are also variations depending on the
flounder living in the western or the eastern part of the Small
Aral. The flounder in the eastern part is spawning 1-2 months
before the one in the western part. This must be related to the
salinity and the higher temperature in the shallow waters of the
eastern part. In a period of 5 months, form March to September,
the flounder is of no value. It moves to the deep waters after
spawning, and is then very lean, with a meat percentage of 30-35
%. The percentage is this low because the meat contains much water,
and it is therefore not very tasty, and even difficult to prepare,
since it is easier to prepare fish with more dry matter.
the summer period it regains its strength and builds up the depots
for the coming spawn season, starting in October.
is hence possible to start the fishery in early September in the
slightly deeper waters, and then follow the flounder on it’s way
towards the coast. The autumn fishery from September till the ice
covers the sea in December, is the best season for fishing
flounder. The fish is very fat, the eggs are firm and tasty, and a
cautious estimation of the meat percentage would be ca. 45-48%.
October, November are the 3 best months for flounder fishery, but
it is also the season where treatment and keeping demand the most
from fishermen and industry.
the ice is safe, the winter season starts – running from some in
December through the end of March. In these 3 months, the quality
of the flounder is reasonable, without being superb, and the meat
percentage is estimated to range from 40-45%, depending on whether
the fish has spawned. In favour of the fishery in this period
speaks the fact that treatment and keeping are significantly
improved compared to the autumn, because the weather is cold and
the fish hence naturally frozen during the catching- and
may conclude that the flounder season covers 6 months. December is
a transitional month, where the ice is appearing and for a time
making fishery impossible – vessels being obstructed by ice, and
walking/driving the ice being still no option.
must be met to obtain an optimal fishery for flounder?
first it should be emphasised that Kazak fishermen have no
tradition in catching flat fish, since the Kazak environment does
not naturally contain species such as flounder. This means that
fishermen must obtain new skills in:
Using the equipment suitable for catching flounder
Treating and keeping flounder
the hunt for flounder, the latter – like other species – some
times shows unpredictable behaviour. Therefore a fishery for
flounder – like for other species – must be build on the
experience of the fishermen. They must build up knowledge of when
to start; where the fish is situated – and not the least why - ;
and they should preferably know this about all the periods in the
year. They must build up the experience that enables them to
”read” the necessary signs from the trial fisheries that are
launched in August/September, when the season starts. The trial
fisheries and the following practical fishery will relatively
quickly, in 5-10 years, build up the experience necessary for an
optimal flounder fishery.
unpredictable behaviour of the flounder can be illustrated in the
following way: In 1996, we were able to catch big amounts of
flounder near Tastubek and all the way to the Akesbe Bay. In this
area there were a lot of fish that autumn, and in the winter the
fishery was very good also. When in 1998 we launched the two major
trial fisheries in Tastubek and Ysh-Schocke, we were somewhat
surprised that there appeared to be quite few fish near Tastubek,
but vast amounts in the western part of Small Aral. (And because
of fragile fishing vessels, we couldn’t move westwards as fast
as it is needed for the fishery be optimal.) In this report, it is
not possible to move into greater details on the hydrological- and
biological causes and explanations of these differences, but it
should be noted that temperatures and salinity’s decide, where
it is possible to catch the flounder before, during and after the
the equipment suitable for catching flounder
equipment and the experience of the fishermen in using nets for
catching of flounder, the fishermen need to build up knowledge and
experience with the
nets that arrive from Denmark. The ready made nets are sewn for
Danish conditions in catching flounder in the Danish waters. Men
these waters are open, with significant currents, and at times big
amounts of vegetation. These conditions are not so important in
the Aral Sea, and therefore the Danish nets are not perfect fits.
However, the nets that are sewn in the Aral Region, and made from
Danish materials, should be more or less optimal. The
effectiveness of the equipment is also influenced by the fact that
the fishermen only recently started catching the flounder in the
Aral Sea, and they are therefore only beginning to build the
necessary knowledge and experience. This concerns the treatment of
the nets, and the ways of taking out the flounder from the Danish
nets. It will take some seasons to build up the abilities to
secure the optimal treatment of nets after their being pulled on
and keeping flounder
treatment and keeping of flounder differ importantly from the
treatment and keeping of fresh water fish like catfish, and carp.
These fish have relatively strong skin with strong scale. This
”packing” protects the fish meat, after the fish has been
brought to land. With regards to carps, there is also one decisive
difference in the fact that the carp is not a predator, and hence
does not carry animal nutrition in the stomach. Predators, i.e.
fish with animal nutrition in the stomach, more quickly become
problematic with regards to quality, than the fish that nourishes
from vegetable nutrition.
central point in the treatment of flounder is connected to the
fact that the skin of the flounder is more thin and without scale.
In combination with the animal contents of the stomach, this means
a rapid loss of quality. The flounder must simply be treated and
kept more carefully than the fish, the Kazak fishermen
traditionally catch. Knowledge and experience in this field must
be build, new systems must be introduced, and investments must be
made in fishery treatment- and storage equipment. This is
necessary, if one wishes to achieve the optimal economical profit
from the flounder catches.
has already been mentioned, but should again be stressed – the
flounder does not belong naturally in the Kazak environment, and
as such it must be considered as unknown to the fishermen. This
can be said to be the most important present obstruction to an
optimal flounder fishery. The following paragraph will concern the
barriers and difficulties that the fishery must meet in this year,
the natural belong those difficulties that have not yet been
solved. The lacking knowledge of the flounder on part of the
fishermen, and the resulting lack of motivation in starting the
flounder fishery. The lacking technical and biological knowledge
of the life and behaviour of the flounder are also important in
this respect. Add to this that the flounder is gastronomically
unknown, compared with e.g. carp. These factors all subtract from
the motivation of the fishermen to start the flounder fishery. Mud
at the sea shore is to some degree disturbing the fishery. And the
relatively long distances and bad roads from the fishing grounds
in the west to Aralsk, are further impediments. Also, the dam and
the insecurity concerning it’s future, play an important role.
professional difficulties is understood the lack of effective
tools for the catching of flounder, badly maintained fishing
vessels, and other necessary means of transportation, such as boat
motors, which aren’t working, and vehicles in very bad condition.
Since the flounder is very vulnerable after catching, the fishery
needs cooling-/freezing vehicles, which are not at present time
available in the region.
is a significant and noticeable lack of organised fishery. We have
seen and heard how the fishery was organised 20-30 years ago. At
that time management was maintained in areas, where it was
necessary – today there is no management. The most brigades and
co-operatives have a management – a direction, but the overall
management, which makes sure that everything is ready when the
season starts, is no longer existing. A few former leaders are
unsuccessfully trying to take steering, but they are out of touch
with reality, or they do not enjoy the respect among the fishermen
and others. The plan management has broken down, and no durable
replacement has yet emerged. The fishermen have obviously lost the
respect of the leaders, who are trying to gain control of the
fishery in the Aral Region.
Problems and difficulties
in the project since it started in 1996
is rather well known that the project has had problems with
co-operation, especially in the initial phase. This should be seen
in terms of the habitual misunderstanding that occur, when two
very different cultures are engaging in the construction of a
co-operation people to people.
kindness and hospitality are the driving forces in such a process.
But these factors, important as they may be for the co-operation
between people, have a tendency at concealing the factual
problems. It has been characteristic for the initial phase of the
project that both parties have been reluctant to put forward the
critique that necessarily must appear in such a phase.
in this respect, the Danish/Kazak project has met greater
difficulties than many similar projects. From the Danish side, no
one had worked with an NGO-project in Kazakstan before, nor in
Central Asia at all. From the Kazak side, no one had worked with
Danish NGO´s before, nor with western NGO´s at all. Besides this,
the problems have been of more concrete character: no
communication in-between the visits, since the telephone
connections were very bad in the first years; lacking support from
the most important partner in the Aralrybprom; lacking support
from specialists and administration in Aralsk.
problems and difficulties in Kazakstan
fishery in Kazakstan, and therefore also in the Aral Region, has
been directed from the top until the independence in 1991. From
Danish side we were of course aware of this reality, but the
Danish partner nonetheless had severe problems in accepting the
fact that such a style of management is not simply changed,
because someone thinks that it would be for the better. We must
assume that this general problem in the co-operation project has
been strongly increased by the problems in the Aral Region in
going from a well functioning fishery to a total collapse in the
fishery and the fishermen in the region are determined by the fate
of Aral. Even though fishery was conducted in other places since
the 70s, the fishermen – and indeed everyone living in the
region – couldn’t put the Aral Sea behind them. The
catastrophe infiltrated everything, it governed every day life in
the region, which it to some extent still does, though less so now
should be noted that the Danish partner differs from most other
organisations operating in the Aral Region, not only in the lack
of previous and present experiences elsewhere in Central Asia, but
also – and significantly – in being non-professional. As an
NGO-organisation based mainly on volunteer work force, the society
Levende Hav, which is responsible for the fishery project, is
depending on the possibilities – and simply the spare time –
of a very limited number of people. The fact that this group is
trained mostly in other fields than development work is considered
in the project to be a major advantage (broadly speaking,
are working together with professional fishermen), but it does
undoubtedly also represent some limitation to the scope and
effectiveness of the project. This was especially true of the
early stages of the project, where communication between Aralsk
and Denmark was next to non-existing, and has generally meant that
the Danish representation in the region has been of short periods
and with people, who were performing concrete tasks within e.g.
one month, but didn’t have the background and time to fully
comprehend the history and background of the fishery in Aral, and
in Central Asia in general.
It is difficult to fully assess the net importance of these factors, but
it can simply be stated that they represent as well advantages as
limitations to the possibilities of the project.
Danish efforts have now been carried on in ca. 5 years. They have
included the following works, from the preliminary investigation
in 1994, to phase 1 in 1996-1998, and phase 2, 1998-1999.
Danish delegation of three visits Aralsk for one month to
carry out preliminary investigations. A Terms
of reference is signed with relevant Kazak partners.
Kazak delegation of 6 persons visits Denmark for one month.
Here, a Protocol
of our Common Aims is signed.
by: The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
A Kazak delegation of 19 persons visits Denmark for one
by: The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
transport with fishery equipment is sent from Denmark to
by: The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Danish private
funds, and companies.
pilot trial fishery under Danish supervision is conducted on
the Small Aral.
by: The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
in the Aral Region: founding of co-operatives, employment of
local staff, and visits from Denmark.
by: The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
from two Kazak delegations, in all 12 persons in 5 weeks.
by: The Danish Foreign Ministry and private funds.
fisheries on the Aral Sea; a biological investigation of
Aral; experiment of selling fish in Almaty; 9 Danish experts
staying in the Aral Region; salary for staff in the region,
administration and purchases.
by: The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
to the foundation of ”Aral Tenizi”: salary for staff,
administration, and purchases; credits; support for general
assembly; 2 Danish staying in the region in two periods.
by: The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and private
transport with fishery- and other equipment is sent from
Denmark to Aralsk.
by: The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, private funds,
companies, and private persons.
that: The activities supported by Danish funds since 1994 - 1999
amount to a total of $ 440,000. (This figure is approximate, since
the course of one dollar has changed during the six years, between
6.3 and 7.2 dollar per Danish crone. In Danish kroner, the
activities have been financed by ca. 3 million DKK.)
the work in the coming 5 years, the project has so far obtained
grants at ca. US$ 400,000.
It could realistically be expected that the project in the years
to come, will be able to obtain
further grants of ca. $ 200,000, and compared with the works that
are to be initiated, this
support will be needed.
all, this means that the Danish support in a period of 10 years,
from 1994-2004, will probably amount to $ 850,000, and when
supplemented by the expected extra grants of $ 200,000, the total
Danish economical commitment will be in more than $ 1 million.
The period 2000-2004
the year 2000, the 3rd phase is initiated. This phase
includes among other, the following elements:
for solving of tasks in this year
for solving of tasks in this year
for solving of tasks in this year
for solving of tasks in this year
the side of the project, we will be active in the period to come.
Above it has been stated, how much money has been granted for this
work. We believe that it will be necessary to obtain another ca. $
200,000, and as mentioned we believe that it should be possible to
find this amount. With this input, we believe that the
perspectives below should be within reach. Of course it is
possible that events will occur that will change even
significantly this prognosis, but it should be noted that such
external influences might effect the project both negatively and
Based on our experience since 1996, on the biological data of the
KAZniirx institute in Aralsk, and on the major biological
investigation carried out in 1998, we may predict that it should
be possible to catch an estimated 1,500 tons of flounder per year
without endangering the sustainability of the stock. At present
time the total catches per year are estimated at around 400-500
tons, which indicates a significant range for intensification of
the efforts. However, with increased efforts in flounder fishery (among
other reasons because of the set backs in the fishery in the
smaller fresh lakes in the region), it is of great importance that
the biological monitoring of the sea is continued, and that
precautions are taken, when the total amounts of the catches
approach 1,000 tons per year, or when the flounder stock shows
The estimated amount of 1,500 tons per year should be possible to reach
with a few elementary improvements in the fishery, and with the
intensification of the efforts due to the simple fact that more
and more fishermen will concentrate on the flounder fishery.
Treatment of the fish is of utmost importance in this process. When
correctly treated and kept, the fish can – especially in the
autumn season – maintain a gastronomic quality fit for any
market. As described above, however, when treated and kept
unsatisfactorily the flounder tends to lose quality very rapidly.
Therefore, it is imperative that all possible means be provided
for the correct treatment and keeping of the flounder, from the
immediate procedures after catching the fish, until it leaves
Aralsk in closed refrigerator containers. The main links in this
process are: The cleaning of the fish, the immediate cooling of it
on location, and the transport from the fishing ground to Aralsk.
The project will take steps to support the improvement of these
procedures, during the fishery season from early September 2000.
The quality of the Aral Flounder is extraordinarily high. Were it caught
and sold in the Danish market, it could provide the fisherman with
a hypothetical income of, say $ 2 per kilogram…
Transportation however, limits the possibilities of actual export of
flounder from Aral. With heightened standards in treatment and
keeping of the fish, no doubt the flounder will attract buyers
from outside the immediate neighbours of the Aral region.