The Russian Far East is a wild, remote part of the world that supports rich biodiversity and healthy runs of salmonids. It also is home to the fabled taimen, a ferociously large freshwater fish that can eat adult salmon. Last month, after years of advocacy, the government of Khabarovsky-Krai, a Russian province, officially created two massive new protected areas on the Tugur and Maia watersheds. These two protected areas total more than 3.7 million acres, nearly one-and-half times the size of Yellowstone National Park.
The Wild Salmon Center, which was integral in securing these monumental protections, celebrated the news. WSC, along with its Russian Partners, has worked in the Russian Far East for almost two decades to ensure that Russia’s prime salmon habitats remain intact. So far, WSC and its partners have protected more than 7 million acres, including the two most-recent protections.
The new protections will ensure the Maia and Tugur River Systems have a buffer against expanding logging, mining, and industrial development in the Russian Far East. “There aren’t too many places like this on Earth,” WSC President and CEO Guido Rahr says. “These rivers are capable of growing salmonids that surpass 100 pounds, and they support amazing wildlife: Steller’s sea eagles, Blakiston’s fish owls, wolves, brown bears, moose, Manchurian elk, and dozens of other species.”
In addition, these new protections will maintain the vast, intact salmon habitats that also act as immense carbon sinks. Around the globe, these productive forests and habitats will be an important tool to address climate change. “This is the most significant conservation achievement of our organization and our partners within the last eight years,” Alexander Kulikov, who guided these protections through the process, said. “This designation has been the result of many years of effort by a large team of like-minded professionals supported by Wild Salmon Center.”
The Maia and Tugur Rivers are some of the remaining watersheds that have sustainable populations of giant taimen. Taimen are one of those fish that you see on the big screen, where your jaw just drops. These massive freshwater trout are apex predators in their rivers and regularly consume adult salmon. Their size and violent nature are enough to draw most anglers, but WSC’s Guido Rahr saw an additional angle. “We needed to understand two things,” Rahr says. “Why was this river so productive that it could grow taimen to reach this size? And how we could work with our Russian partners to better protect these rivers?”
WSC’s work in the Russian Far East will continue thanks to help from their local scientists and supporters. But in the meantime, fly fishermen and women can continue dreaming about swinging a fly in the Tugur and Maia Rivers. Further, we can all keep fueling that bucket list trip knowing that these rivers and fish now enjoy long-term protections. For more on wild salmon conservation, taimen, the Russian Far East, and more check out the Wild Salmon Center’s website.