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Attachment 4 workshop 1

ACTION PLAN First draft version, May 10, 2001 Regarding Invasive Species in the Caspian Sea with special reference to the Comb Jelly Mnemiopsis


The present action plan was prepared based on findings presented at the first and second international workshops on Mnemiopsis held in Baku, Azerbaijan, 24-26 April 2001, and 4-5 December 2001, where the problem of the invasion of the Caspian Sea by the comb jelly animal, Mnemiopsis, was discussed in great detail. Conclusions and recommendations of these workshops form the basis of this action plan.


  1. The ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi is native to the coastal areas of northern America and first appeared in the Black Sea in the early 1980s, having been accidentally introduced with ballast water of ships. Since then, its population has exploded in the Black Sea, and its range has expanded to include the seas of Azov and Marmara, as well as the eastern Mediterranean. It is detrimental to zooplanktivorous fish populations as a predator; Mnemiopsis also eats the pelagic eggs and larvae of the fish themselves. Mnemiopsis is blamed for the collapse of commercial fisheries in the Black and Azov seas in the 1990s.

  2. In 1999, Mnemiopsis was first identified in the Caspian Sea, presumably after being introduced a few years earlier with ballast waters. The Caspian Sea is a completely isolated basin with mostly favorable conditions for Mnemiopsis development throughout the year. Penetration of Mnemiopsis into the Caspian Sea may create a great problem for its fisheries, judging from the Black and Azov seas’ situation. The Caspian Sea is the most important fishery for sturgeon in the world. The first effect of the Mnemiopsis invasion was recorded in 2000, much sooner than its effects were seen in the Black Sea. In both seas a decrease of zooplankton biomass and a sharp reduction in kilka landings were observed. These effects became exacerbated in 2001, with significant drops in fisheries and impaired reproduction in the Caspian seal.

  3. Mnemiopsis has expanded in the Caspian Sea, in 2001 at a rate sufficient to reach levels that could critically endanger the current functioning of the ecosystem and pose grave risks of extinction to a range of species, mainly invertebrates, but also fish (kilka and other species, including beluga sturgeon). Loss of biodiversity as well as economic loss are beginning to result therefrom.

  4. If adequate measures for decreasing the Mnemiopsis population are not undertaken immediately, the effect of Mnemiopsis on the Caspian Sea ecosystem will be disastrous.



    I. Present State of Mnemiopsis Population in the Caspian Sea

  6. The results of the ichthyoplankton survey in the summer of 2000 showed that the main accumulations of the comb-jelly Mnemiopsis were identified in the middle and south Caspian on the eastern shelf in the regions at depths of 70-90 meters (m). Occasional occurrence was reported for the coastal zones. The most significant concentrations in the South Caspian were at the banks – Livanov, Bezymyannaya and the Ogurchinski Island; in the Middle Caspian – Capes Takmak, Rakushechny, Adamtash. The number of Mnemiopsis decreased northwards; the invaded area was restricted to the Kulalinskaya bank.

  7. In May 2000, Mnemiopsis was registered in the western part of the mid-Caspian Sea, near Nabran settlement, in the Northern Absheron Gulf, coastal waters of the islands Pirallahi (Artem) and Oil Stones, and in the western part of Southern Caspian – from Shikhov to Bandovan areas, on offshore oil fields Chirag, Azeri, Nakhichevan, Oguz, on gas field Shakh-Deniz, along pipeline Chirag-Sngachal terminal, and in the waters of Sangachal terminal.

  8. The maximum biomass of this ctenophore in summer 2000 in the south Caspian Sea in Iranian waters was 470 grams per meter squared (g/m2) in the Turkmen and Gomishan regions and none was observed in the surface waters of Amirabad.

  9. Studies on the vertical distribution of Mnemiopsis showed that it was most dense in the warm surface water layers (3-5m) above the thermocline zone; lesser densities occurred in the cold bottom water layers at depths of 30-35 m.

  10. In October 2000, a large number of Mnemiopsis were found in the North Caspian at the Zhemchuzhny Island, in the marine zone of the Volga-Caspian ship channel (depths 5-6 m) and in the northeastern area in front of the delta, (depths 4-5 m) where the water salinity is less than 5 pro mille due to the Volga River freshwater inflow. Maximum concentrations were discovered in the Zhemchuzhny Island area.

  11. In 2001, no major concentrations of Mnemiopsis were seen until July, but in August very high abundances were nted along the Iranian coast and in the West of the South Caspian. The threshold value of 1 kg m-2 was repeatedly overshot, with peaks of up to 3 kg m-2 in Iranian waters, where most kilka fishing stopped. Concentrations were much lower in fresher parts of the Caspian, like in the North-West, in the Kazakh sector. Information on Turkmenistan is rather incomplete and inconclusive.

  12. II. The Basis for Cooperative Actions


  13. The precautionary principle should be applied according to the guidelines on inland fisheries and species introduction specified by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

  14. Any action involving an introduction of an alien species should be preceded by a rapid and independent review of the proposal for introduction by a group of experts on biological invasions, with adequate knowledge of Mnemiopsis, according to the FAO guidelines on the precautionary approach on inland fisheries and species introduction.

  15. Cooperation among all Caspian Sea basin states should be promoted.

  16. The involvement of stakeholders in the implementation of this action plan should be promoted.

  17. Public participation should be fostered through the wide dissemination of information of the work undertaken to control Mnemiopsis in the Caspian Sea as well as through public involvement in the low-cost monitoring.

  18. It is recommended that the Caspian Environment Programme establish a Special Advisory Group composed of Mnemiopsis experts from the Caspian states, the description and general terms of reference of which is given in Appendix 1.

  19. III. Priority Actions

  20. Landmark for action was reached. The landmark of 1kg +/- 10 percent m-2 (wet weight, uncorrected for net effects), corresponding to the Black Sea level of 1988, was repeatedly reached and overshot. In April 2001, it was agreed that this would signal immediate and appropriate steps to be taken. An extensive review of the effects of Beroe on the populations in the Black sea and sea of Azov was conducted, and laboratory experiments in Iran and Russia, involving predation of Beroe on Mnemiopsis and alternative prey were analysed. It ws found that zooplankton and fish in the Black Sea showed signs of recovery, following spectacular effects of Beroe on the abundancoe of Mnemiopsis. Little or no side-effects of Beroe could be found, although there are residual difficulties in reproducing Beroe in aquarium condition, and the whereabouts of both Mnemiopsis and Beroe in the field during winter remain uncertain. It was concluded that the memebers of the advisory group would ask their respective governments to agree to a controllec introduction of Beroe to the Caspian, to be conducted from the Iranian and Azeiri shores, releasing a few hundreds of specimens at each location, in early summer 2002.


    A. Monitoring Mnemiopsis, Beroe, zooplankton, and fish

  1. Full scale ecological monitoring of all major components of the ecosystem of the Caspian Sea should be performed every year in July-August.

  2. Special Mnemiopsis and Beroe surveys should be conducted in the Caspian Seas as frequently as available means permit. Each biological or fisheries research expedition in the region should include measurements of Mnemiopsis.

  3. Low-cost monitoring should be done using secondary school classes, fishermen, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), oil companies and other volunteers. Guidelines for these participants should be developed and widely distributed.

  4. A standard methodology for monitoring should be developed and introduced.

  5. Standard sampling equipment should be used in the region. The appropriate funds should be found for this purpose.

  6. An information system should be developed. This system will include information on all Mnemiopsis publications, an expert database, an institute’s database, and a detailed data inventory. Intellectual property right over data deposited in the data base will be honoured, and data that are unpublished may be kept in confidentiality, until their owners (individuals or institutions) lift he embargo on them.

  7. Copyright and data ownership issues should be discussed and agreed to among the regional research institutions, and a Mnemiopsis database should be established for all Mnemiopsis-related data.


    B. Scientific Studies

  9. Laboratory study of Mnemiopsis’ predatory impact on the pelagic community of the Caspian Sea should be initiated.

  10. Research on the ctenophore Beroe ovata should be continued

  11. Interactions of Beroe with local plankton,

    Interactions of local fishes with Beroe,

    Interactions of Mnemiopsis and Beroe in the Caspian water,

    Determination of optimal conditions for transport of Beroe to the Caspian region,

    Ability to cultivate large quantities of Beroe in the Caspian region, and to close its life cycle in captivity.

  12. Laboratory studies of other possible biological agents eating both Mnemiopsis and Beroe (e.g. the fish Peprilus triacanthus) should be conducted to consider as a possibility for introduction at a later stage.

  13. C. Ballast Water Control

  14. A common methodology for ballast water management should be developed in accordance with guidelines of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in order to prevent future introduction of invasive species into the Caspian Sea as well as escapes of Caspian species from the Caspian to other parts of the world. In particular, the possibility of full de-ballasting or desinfection of ships at Astrakhan should be investigated.

  15. D. Biological Control

  16. A search for local control agents should be pursued. This research should be conducted in local laboratories. Experiments on the feeding of Mnemiopsis by Caspian predators should be conducted in local scientific institutions.

  17. In understanding that the decision on any possible alien species introduction should be made (in consensus) by all Caspian countries, any action involving an introduction of an alien species should be preceded by a rapid and independent review of the proposal for introduction by a group of experts on biological invasions, with adequate knowledge of Mnemiopsis, according to the guidelines on the precautionary approach on inland fisheries and species introduction of FAO.

  18. The Code of Practice on the introduction and transfer of marine organisms developed by ICES should be used as reference guidelines if any biological control measures are proposed.


    IV Financing the Action Plan

  20. Funding for the actions agreed to in this action plan may be secured from domestic, regional or international sources, through general public funding, as well as through grants and loans. Specific projects for international funding should be prepared for bilateral or multilateral funding. Donor conferences for assisting in this process should be held

  21. V Implementation of the Action Plan

  22. The present action plan should be implemented by the Caspian countries through the Regional Advisory Group with assistance from the Caspian Environment Programme at the initial stage.

  23. It is advised that the Regional Advisory Group will submit a semi-annual report to the PCU on the progress made in implementing this action plan. The report should also contain recommendations for enhancing implementation and adjustment of this action plan.

Appendix 1. Terms of Reference for the Regional Mnemiopsis Advisory Group

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