Aral Sea Fisheries Return

A dike built to separate the Northern Aral Sea from the Southern Aral Sea has restored enough of the ecosystem that the fisheries have rebounded. There’s still a long way to go, but it’s a good start.

Brief History of the Aral Sea

At one time, it’s said, the Aral Sea supplied one-sixth of the Soviet Union’s fish. In the 1940s, Soviet planners decided to green the desert of Uzbekistan and diverted much of the water from the two rivers that feed the Aral Sea.

The greening was a success and Uzbekistan has a thriving cotton industry. However, the damage to the Aral Sea and the communities surrounding it has been astonishing.

In 2005, the Kazakh government completed Dike Kokaral. Made of concrete and sloped to resemble a beach, the dike raised sea levels much faster than expected – from a low of thirty meters to forty-two meters in just a few years. Forty-two meters is considered optimal.

Aral Sea Fisheries

The fisheries in the Aral Sea used to bring in about 40,000 tons of fish each year, of which 90% was economically valuable. With the drying up of the sea and the increasing salinity and pollution from agricultural runoff, many of the economically valuable species have declined or gone extinct from the sea.

In 2005, before the completion of Dike Kokaral, the entire biomass of the fish in the Aral Sea was approximately 3500 tons, less than 10% of the catch of previous decades. In 2011, the biomass is approximately 18,000 tons.

That’s a remarkable recovery. The fisheries still have a long way to go, but there is evidence in the communities surrounding the Aral Sea that a modest prosperity is returning to the area.

Image of the Aral Sea at Aralsk by super_collider, used with Creative Commons license.

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