|Central Eurasian Water Crisis: Caspian, Aral, and Dead Seas (UNU, 1998, 203 pages)|
|Part III: The Caspian Sea|
|8. Environmental policy-making for sustainable development of the Caspian Sea area|
Other important development issues for the Caspian Sea require international cooperation. Two are briefly mentioned here: the management of marine biological resources and the management of mineral resources in the seabed, primarily oil and gas.
Marine biological resources
The northern part of the Caspian Sea is of very high biological productivity. Primary biological production amounts to 23 million metric tons a year. In addition, the rivers (primarily the Volga) carry about 20 million tons of organic matter a year from the basin (Katunin et al., 1990, cited in Kuksa, 1994). Therefore, the importance of the Caspian Sea for fisheries is high. During 1976-1981, the average annual fish catch, mostly from the northern Caspian, was about 400,000 tons. The Caspian is a unique body of water containing about 90 per cent of the world population of sturgeon species. Unfortunately, the share of sturgeon in the total catch is declining, being about half what it was during the first decade of the twentieth century. The main causes are the construction of dams on rivers, which cut off the main spawning grounds, increased water pollution, and the reduction of streamflow due to withdrawals for irrigation. Sustainable maintenance of the unique Caspian ecosystem is clearly one of the priority actions to be pursued through cooperation by all five Caspian nations.
One of the very first oil fields to be exploited is around Baku, the largest Caspian city and the capital of Azerbaijan. Today, oil and gas fields are everywhere along the shores of the Sea. The fields extend into the Sea and there is considerable experience, mainly close to Baku, in extracting oil from the Sea's bottom.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union a problem emerged of how to use natural resources from the bottom of a large international lake (or sea). No less serious a problem is the proper environmental management of the Sea in the course of oil and gas prospecting and extraction from the seabed. One of the primary legal issues is to define what the Caspian is - a sea or a lake, because they can be legally treated differently, depending on the definition.
The list of issues related to the sustainable development of the Caspian Sea and its coastline addressed here has not been exhaustive. A first step toward the international cooperation process should be to define the priorities of interest of each of the riparian Caspian countries.