By Miki Trajkovski
A number of Lake Ohrid police force members were arrested on charges of organising and participating in an illegal fishing ring earlier this month, the first anti-corruption action in which a senior police official was arrested.
Lake Ohrid Police Commander Dario Kleckaroski, who is responsible for protecting the lake from criminal activity, was arrested as the main suspect for organising illegal fishing on the lake.
Ljupco Todorovski, director of the Macedonian Interior Ministry security bureau, said Kleckaroski allegedly gave out information on when to fish to avoid lake control.
In an effort to save the Lake Ohrid endemic species and preserve its aquatic life, a full fishing ban went into effect in 2004, with strict penalties for poachers, fish traders and restaurants caught selling trout.
Since, both Macedonia and Albania pay fishermen to catch trout and deliver it to hatcheries for their eggs, which are fertilised. They then return the trout to the lake.
Illegal fishing in Lake Ohrid, which is shared by Macedonia and Albania, has intensified in the past few years.
One kilogram of Ohrid trout, which is now nearly extinct, can bring 30 euros on the black market.
A number of institutions, investigators, judges and policemen were involved in the illegal sport, Radovan Dimitrievski, representative of the sport fishermen from Macedonia, said.
“We will seek help from the EU fisheries commission, EU deputies of green parties and the UN fisheries commission to stop this extermination in Lake Ohrid. We’ll ask them to demand from both countries to respect laws and international conventions for environmental protection,” Dimistrievski told SETimes.
Environmental experts appealed to Skopje and Tirana to increase co-operation on the protection of the lake. They suggested forming a joint body to oversee security.
“Only in that way the countries will have a full control of everything happening in the lake. Experts from the both sides will participate in this body,” Lazo Naumovski, one of the initiators, told SETimes.
Lake Ohrid has had no water border between Macedonia and Albania for 15 years, allowing fish traders and others to easily cross from one side of the lake to the other. Water balls that were earlier placed as a boundary line were destroyed in 1997.
Three years ago Macedonia and Albania started conducting a joint mixed patrol of the lake, but those patrols no longer function.
“The Albanian patrol is not technically equipped, so it cannot jointly control with us …. We protect the border to that ideal line we implemented. We co-operate with the Albanian side,” Ljupco Todorovski, director of the bureau for public security, told SETimes.
“The co-operation between the two countries for the lake protection should be stronger because fish know no borders. Until fishing time is agreed on, from both sides of the lake, we cannot expect a change,” Artan Skembi, mayor of the Albanian city Podgradec, told SETimes.
“In order to fully stop [illegal fishing] in Lake Ohrid, a collaboration must be enforced between local authorities, border police services and fisherman associations,” Pellumb Abeshi, general director for environment from the Albanian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Water, told SETimes.