Fishing in Kamtchatka
In Kamchatka, I coiled anchor ties, stuffed roe nets and weaved hawsers. In Ivashka, a village in which I got to live for several years, these words are common to everyone. This village is remote from the bubbling geysers, volcanoes, and lakes – a favorite location for the feeding of bear sleuths. No, of course there are bears in Ivashka. How can there not be? But most importantly, there is the sea. It is hard to imagine Kamchatka without the shore. I hardly can.
When I was graduating high school in Ivashka, I treasured the most sacred wish – to relocate closer to civilization by any means. However, as a Kostroma State University student, I have been dreaming of coming back to visit Kamchatka once more. But I'm not going to lie, I never wanted to settle down there for good. So when Sanych, my stepfather, suggested that I help the family out by working during the fishing season, I was eager to accept the offer.

Here I am - finishing my examination period ahead of time, already stocking up on film and flying planes and helicopters to my village. I start working right away. I coil, stuff and raddle, I do the same things that everyone else does. The preparation to set up the sine takes about a month. There are ten people in our team; I'm considered a rookie and a season worker. But since I am almost a native, I'm treated well, with slight irony. Even if you are a local - you must be very lucky to get to work at the seine net; that is why strangers are not particularly admired.
Ever since I was a child, I knew the assembly of a seine: it's a large box made out of nets, which attaches to the shore in a way that allows fish to swim inside. Fish is everything from the Salmon family. Good fish is chum, sockeye, coho – they sell for a good price . Pink salmon is just fish; everything else is sort of fish also, but it does not count. Unfortunately, a seine angler doesn't prowl the oceans but stays in one spot for the duration of the fishing season. His daily graft is rough, and work is routine. He lives in a 'gilonka'- a large boat that has no engine. Its inside furnishing consist of one stove and a table, two-story plank beds for anglers and individual ones for 'bugor' and 'kandey' That's what we call the brigade-leader and the cook. The amount of fresh water is limited. The bathroom is where the fish is – overboard. Taking a bath in the height of the season is a rare treat, especially if the sine net is set up away from villages. Local ponds and rivers serve the purpose. Salt water cannot be used for hygiene.
The most difficult task is setting up the seine. You throw bags of sand into the water for the whole day from a loaded barge. It is common to scare newcomers with sandbags, because throwing them is torture. After the seine is set up, workflow is steady. Nets need to be pulled out every day. It is called 'sorting'. The more fish inside, the harder it is to pull, but the greater the profit. Sortings begin early in the morning and continue until late at night with breaks for food and sleep.

When the amount of fish is sufficient, it is transferred from the sine, using a brail, which is a large scoop-net, into a vivary. That is a special tank with slots, for the eudaimonia of the fish. The ship that receives the fish stands next to the seine. For a few months, the fate of the ship's crew is in our hands. There is also a motorboat that moves fish from the seine to the steamboat. Its crew consists of two people – the captain and the mechanic. They are important people with a large salary; they live in their motorboat.
An ordinary angler is equipped with an orange suit and waders. Two pairs of cotton gloves withstand one day. Working in rubber gloves is considered standoffish. That is why our hands are always damp; then again, so are our clothes. At the height of the fishing season, which, at best, lasts for about ten days, nap and food breaks are minimized or reduced to nonexistence. Fish delivery goes one after the other. When there is a chance to sleep, better to do it with clenched fists. After waking, it is going to be less painful to open your palm, then to contract the muscles.

The collocation "fish is coming" signifies that you did not come for nothing – and that you will not leave empty-handed. My first foreman had the best strategy for motivation, following up every throw of the brail with "Bam – four hundred rubles, bam – four hundred rubles" Worked every time! The foreman is the tuner fork of the team. The foreman from my second season was special: a worker, an orthodox Christian communist and former deputy governor of some district , at the same time. Nobody liked him. He was a lousy tuner fork, but fortunately, fish was coming. Personally, I forgave him for many things because he enjoyed saying, in his charming vernacular:
"Everybody, go take a pee! That's an order!"
The team paid for his eccentric behavior at the very end of the season. A shark swam into our seine. This year it has occurred twice. The first time it happened, we were able to corner the creature, pull it out by its tail, and throw it out beyond the seine after taking a group picture, but during the second incident the shark's teeth got tangled in the nets and the animal checked out. We would have repeated the previous procedure, if not for the foreman's interference. He announced that the shark stay in the seine, so he could make a walking cane out of its spine. For obvious reasons, the three-hundred kilogram bonus right at the end of the season did not provoke the team's excitement. However, with clenched teeth, we tumbled the decaying corpse inside the seine for several weeks.

Taking down of the seine is an important part of the process. Take that - we are on the brink of finishing, and the foreman gets into the rowboat to approach his loot. He is slick to grasp what remained of the shark's tail with one hand, and with the other, he tries taking the rope to tie the shark to the rowboat. At that very moment, the remains slip away and descend to the bottom of the sea. The multitude of emotions envelopes the foreman's face. Some anglers giggle, many laugh aloud, I just let out a slight smirk. Nobody were indifferent. It was our victory.
People in the crew, using the anglers' argot – "the crowd", come from various backgrounds. Skilled professionals take up not more than half – the rest are season workers. For example, the cook from my first season prepared objectionable meals, but was a great hairdresser. It is a pity that one gets hungry every day, but hair need to be cut only twice during one season at most. It actually turned out that he was a might-have-been hockey player, if it had not been for the eight years' time in prison for bank robbery. That is the deal – you can meet whomever.

The everyday monotony gets crushed by Fisherman's Day. It brings a harder-hitting avalanche of celebration than if the 23d of February (Father's day), New Year's and the birthdays of every crewmember have fallen on the same date. The Day of the Fisherman is the only legal reason to violate the prohibition. The feast begins with a meeting, to which the owner brings a box of vodka and loads of beer, and the crew puts out a tank of caviar. The Koryak, Vova, declares his toast into the camera:
"Let's drink to Fisherman's Day! We'll chase it down with caviar. If you're not eating caviar – take a look at how we're eating. Yes, we're not eating it, we don't give a flying fuck about it!"
For three days everyone falls into an alcoholic abyss. The only pub in the village is on fire. Two rival fisherman groups need to settle matters in deciding who is the coolest. It is my first season, and I am siding with guys from Abakumov . We're up against the anglers from the continental shelf. Most importantly, Kolya – a two-meter tall air-traffic supervisor, is on our side. Blow-by-blow, he consistently puts out opponents, as you would see in movies. Seryoga, my bunk-bed neighbor, shows up at the doorstep of the bar. Thinking I am in trouble, he jumps from the porch upon the supposed bully and misses. We hear a muffled snapping sound – that's his broken leg. Seryoga is sidelined due to his injury. When morning comes, people try to meet up on the ship but wander off, all over again. Our brigade leader enters, wearing huge shades, but the shiners beneath are even larger – the previous day he fell of a bridge into the river. After a cup of tea, he leaves, saying, "I think I'll go sit on my back for a while".

The holiday ends in the same abrupt manner in which it has started. We are at sea again. We break up the monotony in all possible ways: by sleeping or reading, but usually by talking. By the end of the season, we know almost everything about each other. The short Kamchatka summer is ending. Each following day is bringing less fish, making our schedule resemble that of a resort. Sortings come twice a day, then once in two days, and even less with the beginning of fall.
A concluding story tory, because leaving it out would be too much of a crime. Once our peculiar foreman pulled out a chinook salmon from the nets. It is a large, rare and delicious fish. Naturally, he hogged it for himself. As usual after the delivery, we returned to the village. People went home, and the foreman exited, saying, "I salted its gulls; my brother is coming here by motorcycle to pick it up". He left the fish on the deck, covering it with a piece of cloth. I had nowhere to go, so I shut myself in the cockpit, fired the furnace and fell asleep on the lower bunk. I am not sure how much time passed, but I woke up because the boat was rocking from side to side. We weren't at sea. First thought – earthquake. However, that cannot be, I heard they weren't common in this area. Pitch black outside. I somehow make it to the only illuminator window – what I see is a bear snout, which is licking something off it. Whoa! I turned on the lights and started to barricade myself, out of panic.

I did not come to my senses until after a while, but gradually I started to figure out what has happened. The smell of the damn fish attracted a female bear with two cubs. They are regular visitors of the village. The bear climbed into our boat and ate the chinook. The kids also got some treats. After that, the mother crawled onto the upper deck and started knocking over pots that were carefully brought out by our cook, away from the heat. It turns out bears enjoy chickpea soup as much as fruit compote. I had been frightened so much, that it was enough for years to come.
Text: Sergei Khrapov
Translated by: Valya Bulgakova