English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов - живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World - Living Arctic) No. 14, 2004

I’ve become a fisherwoman and I enjoy it

Irina Kvasova

When I worked as a civil service officer in the village administration of Kovran, Koryak Autonomous Okrug, my husband was engaged in fishing. I have always watched with interest how fishermen did their job using their traditional method of zapor (a kind of a fishweir, an obstruction placed across a stream for catching fish) while fishing smelt in our brook. At present, zapors are still in use only on the Kovran River. And I am real proud that the clan community Kavral still truely follows our ancestors’ traditions. My husband has put much effort, his soul and health in the establishment of this community; it is difficult for him now, and I help him.

I like how early in the morning my fishermen get together in a friendly manner and go to the fishing area to make and check up zapors. They walk their path all the way to the river’s estuary, going along the river, through thickets of purple willows and alder trees. When you walk along the path it is so quiet around, the fresh sea breeze is caressing your face, skylarks are singing merrily, every rustle is clearly heard in the bushes and your soul is thrilled with expectation of a good catch. Only aborigines work in Zaporotskiys’ clan community Kavral, and all of them come from our village. This is the greatest achievement in our work. There were ten people in our team this year. I love them all and I have got accustomed to them as if they were a family of my own. They are very trustworthy pals; they are not afraid of any work, and everything they do turns out well in any weather. Besides, the Itelmens have another wonderful trait – they are cracking jokes and making witty remarks all the time, it’s never boring with them.

The first catch of smelt is traditionally handed over to the population. Usually, it happens on the last days of May – the 30th or 31st. As it is said in jest in our village, “these are the first shoals of smelt coming up the river to find out the situation”. Then, we start catching smelt to deliver it to the fish processing depots in the village of Ust-Khayryuzovo, some 20 kilometers away. This year, thanks to the fortunate upstream run of smelt our community has fulfilled its social obligations to the village: we have assisted the budgetary institutions with redecoration, bought stationeries for the village school according to the application made by the administration, and purchased forms required by the accounts office and district hospital.

There has been another achievement: the Zaporotskiys’ clan community Kavral was the chief sponsor of this year’s Itelmen ritual festival Alkhalalalai. It has been our dream for a long time; we could only dream about it in the old days. And this year it has come true! We are proud of the fact that we are making a great contribution to strengthen friendship between peoples: the ritual Alkhalalalai in Kovran is the crossroads at which all the peoples of the Kamchatkan Peninsula meet.

Today, however, the community is facing more problems than anything else.

The main thing is that we do not have a solid guarantee of receiving quantitatively regulated fishing quotas, including smelt, from the Okrug administration. There is a constant drive to stick “alien” enterprises in and around our river. While doing so, no one takes into account the mere fact that our whole life, traditions and future depend on these fishing quotas. Every year the Kamchatkan branch of the Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography fails to provide us with objective quotas for smelt fishing on our river. And this problem remains unsettled.

Three years ago our community was a participant in the Federal Target Program of “Socio-economic Development of Northern Indigenous Peoples”. We bought a 40-foot refrigerator-container, a diesel generator, and built facilities for a processing shop. But it was very difficult to work according to the Program. The process of argument and reconciliation is far too complicated. Likewise, the procedure of a step-by-step consideration of documents required for the receipt of funds is too intricate.

The quotas – or to be more precise, the difficulties to secure them – have led to a situation where we cannot have a permanent workforce; the majority of fishermen are employed under contract. The commercial smelt fishing is short, about twenty days, but this year our guys have managed to earn some 50-60,000 rubles. This amount will increase tangibly if we install a fast-freezing shop. But this facility would require up to 200,000 dollars. Today, the clan community Kavral is looking for ways to cope with this problem, since it is not only the matter of the community’s future, but of the entire village Kovran. But so far we have not found investors.

I would put the emphasis on the main point in the above – the lack of guarantees of fishing areas and, accordingly, quotes from the authorities. If there were such guarantees, a good deal of our problems could have been sorted out independently, including those connected with investors.

No matter what difficulties there are in the community’s work and life, we understand and try to help our native village because it is our motherland.