Salmon Fishing

in Kamchatka

I spent June, 1997 living with a good friend of mine in the small Russian village of Kluchi. The salmon run had just begun when I arrived, and his family needed all the hands they could find to help catch and process the fish. I helped in all aspects of the fishing, though my favorite (though it was the dirtiest and most exhausting job) was actually catching the plentiful salmon. Below I have attempted to convey a sense of the life that these people lead for three months each year as they work day and night to catch enough salmon to last them through the long winter to come. The fishing day begins at 4 a.m., before the sun is up. The boat is made readied and the net laid out. Each family has a half-mile long stretch of the river that it has exclusive rights to fish, by local agreement. It is important to get an early set, before the fisherman further downstream begin fishing, since nets downstream block the salmon's path and greatly reduce catches further upstream in this rather narrow river.

Fishermen travel to the upstream end of their area, drop their 300m long net in the water and, as is shown in this picture, motor slowly downstream, using all their skills to keep their net in the most efficient position and avoiding the logs and debris that clog the muddy river in the springtime.
Once the end of the section is reached, the fishermen must begin the arduous task of hauling in the net, heavy with fish, by hand. The fish are left in the net while it is hauled in. The boat heads to the nearby shore, where it docks aside a second small boat (both of which are handmade by the fishermen themselves).
Then the sorting process begins, as the two fishermen go through the net foot by foot, removing the salmon and tossing them into the second boat. A heavy canvas tarp protects the stored catch from birds, who like to peck out the eyes and cheeks (both of which are considered great delicacies by the Russians).
Every few hours, one of the fishermen rides downstream in the second boat to drop off the fish, which another family member takes home to be processed. The fish are first rinsed off in fresh water, then filleted (photo). The spines and heads are dried out to feed the family dogs and livestock.
The meat is then prepared in a variety of ways. It is typically either salted in giant barrels or, as is pictured here, smoked in a special smokehouse for 7-14 days.

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