Fish Not Rising

The people of the Volga river delta have been fishing since the dawn of time. But for the last 30 years they find themselves fighting against the aftermath of the USSR collapse, environmental degradation and bureaucracy. As a result the whole country receives fewer fish and the fisherman job is dying out in the Caspian region.

One of the biggest fish factories of the USSR in Oranzherei village is long gone. But most of the locals had been exclusively fishing for generations before, so they could not leave the river.

According to the former factory employees, after the USSR collapsed they had to live with no wages. Even in the late 1990's, when the country’s economy became relatively stable, instead of money they would get expired produce. The most common dish was a potato and onion soup. A lot of people had left then. Poachers handled the situation much easier.

A new business currently operates in the shops of the former factory. But it’s a droplet in the ocean compared to the old days scale. There’s much fewer fish now, the sturgeons disappear the quickest. The soviet capacities are no longer in demand, a lot of shops are in ruins.

The thing is, the water level in the Volga delta highly depends on the system of locks. The Federal Agency for water resources decides on the amount of water to be dumped each year. The spring freshet has been getting weaker and weaker for the last ten years.

The bureaucracy is also an obstacle. The legislation is incoherent and vague, which results in hefty fines and a risk of losing the fishing quotas for the fishermen.

At the same time, people in Moscow do not realize how many of each fish species is actually caught in the river. That is why fish is so expensive and scarce on the capital’s markets.

Some of the factory workers start poaching. It makes much more money. For a simple fisherman it’s a way of survival rather than greed though. Everyone used to be employed, but now less hands are required. Although illegal sturgeon catching can get you a prison sentence. The organized business earning money by poaching does exist to some extent. But ordinary fishermen are just trying to feed their families.