The village of Vatnavolok is located on the shore of the Lizhmenskaya Bay of Lake Onega, to the north of the capital of the region, Petrozavodsk. Since last year, local residents have been fighting a Tver-based company that bought the rights to a fish farm and started building a cage farm. Last summer was hot because of the performance of the residents, and the project was put on hold. But now the work has been resumed, cages have already been built, fry are launched into them and will soon be delivered to their place of deployment a couple of kilometers from Vatnavolok.
“We have known for a long time what a neighborhood with a farm is, to the north of us, near the village of Lizhma, a farm is already operating,” says a resident of the village Yegor Titov, “when the wind from the other side brings all the waste to us. The lake is the only source of drinking water and we always drank it without fear. But now it is impossible to drink water with such neighbors, insects can be seen with the naked eye, the water has a specific smell even after filters and boiling. And the new farm will be south of Vatnavolok, which means that wherever the wind blows, dirty water will come to us”.
Residents wrote appeals to the regional authorities and the prosecutor's office, the Minister of Agriculture of Karelia came to the village, but all the officials unanimously answered that everything was according to the law. The fish breeding site was formed back in 2008, and the rights to it were sold in 2019.
“We understand that everything is according to the law, but we are being deprived of a source of drinking water, we understand that at the time these decisions were made there was no obligation to hold public hearings, the formal consent of the district authorities was enough,” says Yegor Titov . - Last year, when all these disputes were going on, we proposed to give the company another place, there are unclaimed sites in Karelia. Everyone agreed to this option, but this did not happen, why is not clear. And this year, violations began, for example, active work is now underway, but according to their own documentation, where it is scheduled, when and what needs to be done, work should begin no earlier than July 30, because spawning takes place before that. And they work. If people can't fish, why does the business work? Plus, cages are collected in the village of Lizhma and will be delivered from there. And according to the documents, they should lead from another place 40 kilometers from here.
The representative of the company "Rzhevzernoproduk", which is engaged in the production of feed, Andrey Tsarev refused to communicate with the correspondent of "Novye Izvestiya", offering to write a request. The message to the company has been sent.
According to local residents, the idea to hold a referendum came after realizing that all the procedures were legal, although they poisoned the life of Vatanvoloka, and no one wants to meet people halfway. The very fact of holding a plebiscite on a controversial topic is a kind of precedent. The head of the Kedrozero rural settlement, to which Vatanvalok belongs, Anatoly Papchenkov believes that this is the only case in the country so far when residents are trying to resolve the conflict with business and the authorities in this way.
Initially, people turned to the territorial election commission with the initiative to hold a referendum in the entire Kondopoga region, it was proposed to ban trout farms in principle. But the district deputies cut down the initiative. Then village deputies got involved and voted to hold a vote at the settlement level and resolve the issue locally. Now the entire bureaucratic machine of Karelia has turned against the administration of Kedrozero. The prosecutor's office protested the decision of the deputies and filed a lawsuit demanding that they be canceled.
“People are very dissatisfied”, - says Anatony Papchenkov, “the farm is a huge structure, this particular one, according to the documents, should stretch for 1.7 kilometers and will be close to the settlement. The lake for them is the only source of drinking water. We rest on this "The referendum should decide the issue of local importance - providing the village with water. The prosecutor's office writes that this is a matter of the district, not the settlement".
But there is no such division in the law on local self-government. Another argument is that the lake is federal property. And what do people drink then? On June 14, the TEC, considering the documents, did not make a decision on the referendum, postponed the issue in connection with the alleged appeal of the prosecutor's office to the court.
"I have not yet seen this lawsuit, as well as the protest of the prosecutor. If I am the defendant in the lawsuit and do not know about it, then how can the TEC be aware of it? In addition, we were sued by Rzhevzernoprodukt. I think that the TEC has no decisions The court had no right to postpone the referendum. And now there is a delay in time to prevent people from speaking out. I don’t know how this will all end.” Papchenkov says.
The issue of water in this area is painful, the residents are used to taking it directly from the lakes. Wells and wells do not always save the situation. So, in Kedrozero, a water supply system built back in 1904 for washing steam locomotives worked for 100 years. The pumping station provided water from Lake Onega to the railroad and to village pumps. Some time ago, the prosecutor's office pointed out that the water quality did not meet the standards, and the system was closed. Instead, wells were dug, but it turned out that the content of manganese and iron in the water was exceeded, it can neither be drunk nor watered gardens. The wells had to be boarded up.
There are precedents in Karelia when residents have achieved the closure of a trout farm. In 2019, the village of Voinitsa won a court case and were able to prove that the cages would spoil the water in the drinking lake Upper Kuito. Around this process, the Green Justice initiative group gathered, whose activists monitor such situations.
“Cultivation of trout in the northern freshwater lakes is the most environmentally unfriendly type of aquaculture. Excess concentrations of nutrients quickly unbalance the lake ecosystem, even with impeccable adherence to production technology, says one of the Green Justice activists.
The polluting effect of fish farming is approximately twice that of beef or pork production and five times that of chicken meat production. At the same time, the method is cheap, which attracts entrepreneurs.
In fact, almost all of the current Karelian "trout farming" is cultivation for the sake of maximum profit, combined with the minimization of all other costs.
According to activists, the legislation is adjusted for maximum convenience of business. Environmental and environmental issues are declared by federal laws, but are not supported by any regulatory and methodological guidelines. And the powers of numerous supervisory bodies are delimited so that no one is responsible for anything.
“In order to correct the situation, it is necessary to discuss the issue at a scientific level,” activists say, “in addition, it is necessary to prohibit the formation of new fish breeding sites, abolish all unclaimed ones, recheck all existing sites for environmental validity, and also check all farms. In general, we need a new system for the formation of trout cage farms, organized according to the European type”.
In Karelia, 235 fish breeding sites have been formed and most of them are in operation. Conflicts like the one developing in Vatnavolok are not uncommon in the region. Fish farmers choose parts of the water area closer to settlements so that they can conveniently drive up from land and swim close to the cages. This makes fish production cheaper, but because of this, merchants come into conflict with local residents.
Yulia Shevchuk, a journalist and editor of the Chernika publication, says that most of these situations could have been avoided if merchants and authorities had communicated with residents:
-In 2019, at the same commission that approved the site for Rzhevzernoprodut, they allocated a site for the Tari Bari company, it held public hearings, although it was not obliged, the residents spoke out against the neighborhood, and the project was curtailed. This approach also happens. In Vatnavaloka they went the other way, the minister of agriculture came and said “you do not understand your happiness and you have to look pragmatically”. Say, you grow carrots, pick berries, use nature. That's the level of reasoning. Every time in such stories, the authorities do not show the ability to talk to people about their problems. A conversation begins between the blind and the deaf. People want to hear figures, see documents, scientists' opinions. The words of an official who will say that everything is fine, do not worry, go to your stove are not enough for them. In the end, it all came down to the fact that the authorities said that the topic was being inflated before the elections, although who in this village needed elections? They want clean water. They have nothing more to fight for".
The head of Kedrozero, Anatoly Papchenkov, confirms that the economic benefits for the villages from the operation of farms are not obvious:
- We have several such farms, they say these are jobs, taxes, but, for example, Izumrud Invest, which works in Lukinosvtrov, makes payments to our budget of 730 rubles per quarter. Not a lot of money from the number of cages that are there. There is more garbage from activities and service personnel than taxes. And jobs - watchmen with very low wages, this does not solve social problems.
According to Yulia Shevchuk, it is difficult to get a clear picture in the dispute between fish farmers and people. Farms regularly order water analysis and everything is clean there, the official has enough of these reports. But people cannot order an independent examination, or they don’t have money, or they can’t organize themselves.
“The level of distrust of the authorities in this topic is expressed very clearly”, - the interlocutor says, “the residents do not trust the words about control, because they see their water, they see carcasses on the shore, but all this is at the everyday level. On the other hand, the authorities see this tension. Over the past two years, not a single fish breeding area has been given away, although there are free ones. Even fish farmers with a good reputation who started this business in the early 90s are not given new plots, because they see that society does not take it very well.