Illegal operations threaten rare and protected fish.
By Klaudija Lutovska for Southeast European Times in Bitola -- 02/09/13
Criminal groups often bring illegally caught fish on foot across the Albania-Macedonia border and re-enter by vehicle to pick up the catch. [Klaudija Lutovska/SETimes]
Macedonia and Albania are taking measures to suppress growing organised crime involving the illegal catch and distribution of fish across the border in the Prespa and Ohrid lakes areas, officials said.
Ohrid police detained six members of a group of Albanian and Macedonian citizens last month for smuggling a large quantity of fish from Albania.
Police said smugglers illegally catch the fish -- usually carp and bleak -- then illegally cross the border to Macedonia on foot and leave the catch in buckets. Afterwards they cross the border in large vehicles, pick up the buckets and take the fish to potential buyers.
"[This time] the police stopped them on the regional road to St. Naum," the Macedonian interior ministry told SETimes in a statement.
"We continuously take measures to strengthen controls on water and on land. We co-operate with the Ohrid port authority, the security protection concessionaire and the police in Albania with which we conduct joint patrols," Ivo Kotevski, spokesperson for the interior ministry of Macedonia, told SETimes.
Macedonian police filed charges against 10 people this year for illegal fishing -- six Macedonian and four Albanian citizens.
Local authorities said they intensified checks of fish markets and restaurants in Ohrid and Struga to determine the origin of the fish.
In one day (August 1st) inspectors confiscated 30 kilograms of fish for lack of documentation on origin and levied fines of 3,500 euros.
"Individuals often offer fish for cash at prices far lower than the market price," Borce Pavlov, owner of a restaurant in Prilep, told SETimes.
But penalties for buying illegal fish are high; they range up to several thousand euros and can include closing down the restaurant, he added.
To provide an additional measure against poachers, the Ohrid port authority hired the security firm Trout 2012 last year.
"Our commitment is to the physical protection of the fish. Considering the situation which we inherited at the beginning, conditions today are much improved. We have 12 guards who closely monitor the situation on the ground and hired an additional 14," Riste Tanasoski, Trout 2012 representative, told SETimes.
Tanasoski said criminal groups have targeted rare and protected fish like Ohrid trout and belvica.
Trout 2012 conducted more than 70 checks on Lake Ohrid in the past several months and seized 8 kilometres of fishnets.
Authorities have obtained warrants to search homes and commercial buildings such as in Lower Dupeni and Nakolec in the Prespa Lake area, where they seized 205 kilograms of fish; 283 fishnets whose total length is 14 kilometres; three boats and other equipment.
Albania has primarily relied on licenses. It has licenced 150 fishermen to fish in Ohrid Lake, but fisherman say that the actual number of people who fish exceeds 300.
"The illegal fishermen keep working unbothered. Police and the fishing inspectorate are almost non-existent in the Ohrid Lake area. This situation is destroying the lake because the illegal fishing is targeting even the small trout, which is prohibited at all times," Adriatik Dokollari, head of the Pogradec Fishermen's Association, told SETimes.
Albanian authorities said they are applying a set of measures.
"We check the fishermen or their activity and keep the radars and cameras on non-stop. Cases are reported when some fishermen, due to the missing signs at the borders, cross over to Macedonia where they are fined and their boats are confiscated by Macedonian police," Ylber Zyberi, director of Korca border region, told SETimes.
Last year, the Albania environment ministry conducted an operation which resulted in the confiscation and burning 5 kilometres of fishing nets.
Correspondent Erl Murati in Tirana contributed to this report.
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