Mass death of herring on Sakhalin island: what is the cause?

There are fears that herring could vanish from these waters. Picture: Ecowatch Sakhalin

By The Siberian Times

Natural causes, or linked to oil and gas exploitation?

Shocking pictures show thousands of herring washed up around Piltun Bay in northeastern  Sakhalin. Both state research bodies and ecological campaign groups are seeking to understand the reasons behind the mass death of the fish. Meanwhile, there are fears that herring could vanish from these waters. Activists from Ecowatch counted dead fish at 28 points along a 30 kilometre stretch of shore.

Dead fish

Dead fish

Dead fish

Activists from Ecowatch counted dead fish at 28 points along a 30 kilometre stretch of shore. Picture: Ecowatch Sakhalin

All were Pacific herring, of different sizes – from 5 cm to large specimens. Head of the ‘Ecowatch of Sakhalin’ Dmitry Lisitsyn, accused state scientists of failing to carry out ‘serious research’. The fish protection service had only once traveled to the scene and simply recorded the presence of the dead fish, he said. ‘That’s why we went to the media,’ he said. ‘We hope that at least with the help of publicity we will be able to encourage the state bodies to take action.

‘Already so many days have passed, but no one cares.

Khalchikov river mouth

Death fish near the mouth of Khalchikov river. Picture: Ecowatch Sakhalin

‘We have different allegations about the cause of the death of fish. ‘For example, on the shores of the bay, there are a number of oil fields from of which leakages often occur. ‘In addition, the fish passed by two oil platforms. ‘It is also impossible to exclude natural causes, associated with the oxygen content in the water. ‘However, the latter reason is unlikely.

Sabo river South from Sabo river

Dead fish on the bank of Sabo river. Pictures: Ecowatch Sakhalin

‘In a word, there are many versions. ‘But the main thing is that no one tries to find the cause, no one took samples of fish, water, algae, soil. ‘No one tried to conduct analysis, research.’ He fears that ‘the entire herring population has died’ from these waters.

Sakhalin Scientific-Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (SakhNIRO ) admitted they did not send staff to the scene.

Dead fish

Sergey Gusev, the head of the local district – Okhinsky, sent samples of the dead fish to Greenpeace in Moscow. Picture: Ecowatch Sakhalin

Deputy director Victor Lapko said: ‘We ourselves did not go to the scene of the incident. ‘Such cases as the mass death of herring, usually happen unexpectedly. ‘It is not easy to get to the place. ‘We do not always have the opportunity to send our employees.’ But they received samples of the dead fish and are working on obtaining a conclusion for the mass killing. Meanwhile, Sergey Gusev, the head of the local district – Okhinsky, sent samples of the dead fish to Greenpeace in Moscow.

Piltun Bay

Piltun Bay. Picture: Vladimir Deikin

Lapko said ‘I do not know why Gusev decided to send samples for research to Greenpeace, and not to local research bodies. ‘But, despite this, I want to praise him. ‘He, as the head of the district, promptly reacted to the incident, immediately gathered a commission and went to the site of the death of the fish. ‘In addition, Gusev himself collected all the necessary samples and himself decided to send them for research.’ But he claimed the local publicity on the problem may be geared to harming the interests of oil companies. Another local watchdog official Elena Kirchenko, from Rosrybolovstvo, said: ‘I assume that this is a natural dying out of fish. ‘Piltun Bay freezes deep, and when the ice breaks, the fish might die. ‘Now we must wait for the results of the study. ‘If the reason for the death of the fish was not natural, but, for example, the work of oil platforms, we will initiate a criminal case.’



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