The Sakhalin Salmon Run

August and September on Sakhalin Island are known by everyone as the season where the salmon swim from the sea up the thousands of rivers and streams all over the island to lay their eggs.

This is a time when huge nets are slung across river-mouths to be lifted by crane and emptied by the ton into lorries, the operators of such activities having either paid huge sums of money for licenses to do so, or paid huge sums of money in bribes to do so.  The first is more common, the second suspected and almost certain to go on, and it is true that fishing inspectors drive up and down in a fancy new Land Cruisers (lending much weight to suspicions of the second scenario) ensuring that nobody takes a fish out of the river without having first paid for it one way or another. 

For those without cranes, the options are to stand by the river and fish in the traditional fashion or get hold of a small dinghy and row out into the river mouth.  Individuals are supposed to purchase a license for 10 fish from the fishing inspector, but I doubt that many of the several hundred Russians you see down by the river have bothered with this.  Most people are catching fish purely for personal consumption.

You’d be hard-pressed to call it fishing.  Salmon swimming upstream to lay eggs aren’t much interested in biting at a lure, but so dense are the fish in the water, holding their position against the current trying to take them back downstream, that is is simple to throw in a large treble-hook and foul hook a large salmon, or if you don’t mind getting your feet wet, you can simply wade in and grab one.  You can even go fishing with a large rock, caveman style.  But it’s not the stuff you’d find many fly fishermen seeking the thrill of a battle with a Scottish salmon to take much interest in.  That said, casting and spinning on the beach can get you a fish which could make you feel some sense of achievement, more so than whacking one on the head with a club as it idles in the shallow water.  The sheer volume of fish is quite incredible, as the pictures below show.  No stream seems too small to attract thousands of salmon, which seem to almost take up more space than the water itself.

Salmon run, Sakhalin Island

Salmon run, Sakhalin Island

Salmon run, Sakhalin Island

Of course, fishing in local waters being prohibited by any employee of the company I work for, I did not attempt to catch any fish using any method, and nor did the group of people I was with.  The two fish that I cooked along with potatos, carrots, and onion in a large pot, and the fish that was roasted on the fire in foil with added lemon, during the last camping trip were purchased legitimately from a local fisherman only after we had obtained explicit confirmation from the fishing inspector that the fisherman concerned was fully paid up and was an altogether wholesome citizen of the Russian Federation.

Any mighty tasty they were too.  The fish, that is.


6 thoughts on “The Sakhalin Salmon Run

  1. Why is fishing prohibited by the company and what say do they have about it anyway ? Are the streams in question on company property ?

  2. I think they thought it would be bad PR for an oil company to be perceived to be pillaging Sakhalin’s fish reserves as well as oil and gas reserves, even if a solitary employee was trying his luck with a rod and line. If the oil companies here did so much as frighten a fish, the environmentalists would go bananas (whilst quietly ignoring the nets, cranes, and lorries).

    There’s also the matter of a prime fishing spot being right beside one of the main construction sites. I don’t think they wanted gangs of their workforce lined up fishing rather than being at work, generating yet more bad PR.

  3. Id be interested to know how much you paid for them fishies Skinny.

    I paid the same as the historical average I pay for chocolate brownies, apple pie, BBQ sausages, etc. etc.

  4. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Russia: Sakhalin Salmon

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