National Geographic : 2009 Aug
or individuals are currently licensed to fish hereabouts, Pasmurov told me. The number of operators and the quota allotted to each are regulated---but not very stringently---by the Fed- eral Agency of Fisheries. "It results in reducing sh," he said. Year to year, the runs are becom- ing smaller. Poaching also plays a role. e Bol- shaya is a large river, easily accessible by road, therefore hard to protect. Access will become easier still, he added, now that a pipeline is being built to carry natural gas from the west coast to Petropavlovsk, crossing the Bystraya and a dozen other rivers (including the Kol, notwithstanding its protected-area status). e pipeline itself might be clean and leakproof, Pasmurov said, but the road built alongside it will invite more poaching, especially for caviar. And caviar---valuable, preservable, portable--- is what most poachers are a er. "It s more con- venient, easier to hide," he said. "You just salt it, put it in tanks, hide it in the forest." Later a truck, or even a helicopter, comes to collect the stash. Netting the salmon as they near their spawning streams, slitting them open, stripping out the eggs, tossing the carcasses aside as waste, a gang of poachers can do huge damage in a very short time. Their wholesale customers might even include some of the big sh-processing plants: laundering caviar for the open market. I heard the same thing about caviar from other sources, including an ex-poacher on the Kol, who recalled that in the days before protec- tion a small team could harvest ve tons in a sea- son. ere might be 15 such teams on the river, each man making ten times the money he could in a legal shing job. Do the arithmetic, and you nd that at least 75 metric tons of illegally taken salmon eggs (each mass of eggs account- ing for 20 percent of the female s body weight) amounts to more than three-quarters of a mil- lion pounds of illegally killed sh. e carcasses of those salmon are left for bears and other scavengers---a short-term bene t to the ecosys- tem, yes---but every salmon thus intercepted leaves no o spring to perpetuate the run. On the lower Bolshaya I saw the business of salmon shing as practiced legally. It was a chilly July morning. A dozen men stood ready in waders, wool caps, and rubber gloves as a net was stretched far out across the river s channel by motorboat, then swung gradually down- stream and drawn closed against the same bank, trapping hundreds of sockeye and coho in a watery corral. e men began walking the net back upstream, drawing it tighter toward the shallows, herding salmon onto a gravel beach. e sh, big and silvery (not yet ushed red, as they would be if they reached their spawn- ing grounds), opped robustly until there was nowhere to go. e men li ed them by their tails, one by one, and tossed them into a cargo boat. When that boat was full, it departed upstream to a landing, for unloading onto a truck, and another took its place. Within half an hour, from one set of the net, the crew took what looked like at least a thousand pounds of sh. At one point a man li ed a nice-looking sh by the tail and tossed it back into the river. It was a female, heading upstream to spawn, I was told, so they didn t want to kill it. One sh, at least, might ful ll her reproductive potential. But whether this operation would abide by its legal quota was another issue, impossible for me to judge as a casual observer. Russian residents of Kam- chatka (who are immigrants and descendants of immigrants) came to depend on salmon shing as a pillar of the economy, the Itelmen people and other indigenous Kamchatkans had developed cultural, religious, and subsistence practices centered on salmon. e Itelmen, in particular, made their settlements along the banks of rivers, mostly in the southern two- thirds of the peninsula, where they harvested TAKE THE SALMON AWAY, AND THE LEAVES OF THE TREES WILL BE DEPRIVED OF NITROGEN. SO WILL THE INSECTS. THE ENTIRE ECOSYSTEM WILL LOSE NUTRIENTS.