Kosovo authorities searched the disputed Ujman/Gazivode lake in the Serb-majority north Kosovo as part of an illegal fishing crackdown.
“For around 24 years since the [Kosovo] war, to this day, no one has inspected [the lake],” said Milaim Vitia, head of the Kosovo Fishermen’s Federation.
The inspection comes one day after Federation inspectors were attacked at Vermica lake, in Prizren, near the border with Albania.
“It is a bit dangerous there, so we ask the police to accompany us every time we inspect,” said Vitia. He said the Kosovo Fishermen’s Federation was attempting to implement laws on illegal fishing due to a lack of proper inspections in the area.
Vitia said some 200 fishermen in Kosovo regularly carry out illegal fishing, either by failing to obtain proper permits, or by fishing in lakes designated for drinking water, such as the Ujman/Gazivode lake.
The Ujman/Gazivode lake was designated a strategically important reservoir in the 1970s, and is claimed by both Serbia and Kosovo.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
The day prior to the Ujman/Gazivode inspection, Vitia and two other officials of the Fishermen’s Federation were assaulted at Vermice lake after having confiscated illegal fishing nets.
Despite having been the head of the Federation for only four months, Vitia told reporters “we have similar incidents every couple of days because there have not been proper inspections and the law is not being followed.”
“I called the police around 10 times,” Vitia said of the recent physical assault. He said the police “did not arrive until one hour later.”
In a video of the incident, three men are seen holding a fourth man down on his knees by the lake. The three men are beating him, while two other men stand close by. One of the men has been arrested over the incident, and four others are being questioned by police.
“It took the emergency services an hour and a half to arrive and give us first aid,” said Vitia.
According to a 2019 report, at least ten tonnes of fish are stolen via illegal fishing in Serbia every day. The issue is due in large part to the fact that Serbia’s 50 square kilometers of water is protected by only one fish warden, while the fish in those waters have an approximate market value of €12 million. The industry, then, is a lucrative one, with minimal risks posed to offenders.
Image via Wikimedia