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Travels in Russia

KLM Rocks Across Europe!
Santa Claus in Moscow
Television Is a Time Suck
The Reality of Irrelevance
Salute Mayor Luzhkov
Impeachment Happens
I Am Not The Only One...
I'm Back! Did Ya Miss Me?
Chechnya Burning
Weddings in Winter
The Jews Are Here!
Gailyn Goes to Town
Is There a Central Bank?
Santa Barbara is Real
Nick's Thanksgiving in Russia
Den' Rozhdeniya = Birthdays
Those Crazy Expats
It's Just a Few Drops of Vodka...
Elections Are Always Rigged
The Blind Leading the Blind
Good Russian Grooms
You Say 'Boris Berezovskiy' Fast
Too Cold to Care!
Russian Oil Towns
Sneaky Siberian Tigers
Which Way is St Peterburg?
Where am I again? Oh, yeah...
I Love Me Some Vodka
It's a Gosorg Halloween
Hunger Comes to Us All
Why Don't They Just Learn English?!
Post-Crisis, Life Goes On
Is Yeltsin 'The Man'?
Murmansk - Brrrr!
Taganka Hides Her Secrects
These are Communists
It's a Power Vaccum
The Commies are Back
Propaganda is Good for You
You Better Buy Russian!
Sex Ed Soviet Style
Party over, oops outta time!
Russian Healthcare in Moscow
What Russian Financial Crisis?
YE Prices in Russia
The Hungry Duck
Magical Mushrooms
Shhhh! We're Bear Hunting
Soviet Street Scams
Bez Dollarov
A Koshka Konspiracy
On The Dacha
The Banking Implosion
Surviving Army Life
Shashleek is Steak on Steroids
Dacha Thinking
Beach Weekend
Dos Vedanya
Hello from Vladivostok
Equality Means Only She Works
Jogging is an Extreme Sport
Russians Have Reunions Too
My Folks in Massive Moscow
Better than Fireworks
Miners Are Real Men
The Russian Mafia is the Roof
No One Smiles in the CIS
One Year Anniversary
Russian Brides Rock
Laura is My St Pete Connection
Change is in the Wind
Chuck Norris' Beverly Hills Casino
The Expat Woman's Predicament
Street Food is Yummy!
Spring Flowers Make June Leavers
The Provinces Are Provincial
Ever Take an Elektrichka?
The English Invasion
Nuttin Like New Money
Rules Are Made to Break
All Black is Russian Fashion
Easter Memories = Easter Dinner
Politics, Russian Style
Theresa Tries to Russify
I Go to Gay Clubs Worldwide
I Hide on Women's Day
New & Shiny: Nizhny Novgorod
Psst! Wanna job in Moscow?
Fili Park Has All the Bootlegs
Web Page Reactions
Take a Break at Dom Odaha
Expat Living in Moscow is Swank
Why Are You Remonting?
They Look Like Telephones...
In Need of a Decent Hairstylist
Smashing Bottles in Red Square


Russia, September 10, 1998

Russian Caviar Mafia

I put it on my toast in the morning!

Johnson's Russia List,10 September 1998

Russian Caviar Mafia

By Robert King

It's a full moon, hours before dawn as Victor a reformed poacher who during the Soviet time was jailed for poaching sturgeon is now the team leader of a Russian State Fishing Team working on the Volga Delta. While floating in a small wooden one man boat, Victor tells me about the problems facing the families of the State Fishermen who work on the Volga. "Our State Fishing team of twenty men must only catch Vobla, Lesh, Sezan, and catfish. Our team must through back every male and female sturgeon we catch in our nets according to the Russian Fishing Law." Victor goes on to say "I have three children and a wife to look after and the State has not paid me or my team our wages of 3 dollars a day in over two and a half years so Sturgeon is our payment from the State.

On the starry night Victor and I both almost drowned in the fast moving river water of the Volga while floating in the middle of the river. Victor was leaning over the side of the boat checking the fishing net slipping into the water. As the final 100 yard of the net quietly slipped into the dark water making the sound of cotton sheets softly blowing softly in a cool Mississippi river breeze. Large fish could be heard helplessly fighting for their freedom. As the fish fight their bodies become tangled in the fishing net while their tails frantically brake the surface of the water. Victor was heavily concentrating on his job and did not see or hear the large tanker headed strait at for us. Victor could not understand my repeated warnings in English until I said the newly learned Russian phrase used by the fisherman. As I screamed the Russian word for "fucked in the mouth" Victor looked up and smiling and seconds later Victor's smiling face turned into a face of horror. His facial expression is seen only in the faces of men who can look death strait in the eyes and still calculate their options for survival. Victor jumped to his feet as he pulled out a box of wooden matches kept dry in his shirt pocket. Victor frantically started striking small wooded matches and tossing them over board.

As the tanker got closer and closer I said a few fox hole prayers I learned during my 5 years of photographing wars. It goes like this "God I'm not ready to die and if I live this out I promise I'll go to church, stop doing drugs, excessive drinking, sleeping around, and using your name in vain." Then I went on to say "please Lord save us from death and let the captain on the large approaching tanker see our small sparks and flames before they are either blown out in the wind or burn out in the water. I promise I'll go to church when I get back to the port. To my surprise my prayer was answered and tanker missed us by about ten yards. The waves from the tanker almost sunk the small little wooden vessel but we never had to abandon ship in our hip boots . I was never able to keep my promise I made that night because The village where I was staying had no Church and plenty of smoke. I think the Olya village is the only Russian village I've visited that does not have a Church but does have a tattooed female who sold me plenty of grass to smoke.

As the full moon dawn ended my darkest hour on the Volga. The delta sun rise silhouetted Victor's 20 man fishing team working the nets out in the Volga. The sturgeon that were captured in their nets are ripped out of the Volga and tossed through the air. The poached Sturgeon flew across the orange and purple sky while twirling nose over tail before crashing head first into a floating wooden fishing boat. A fouled mouth Cook silhouetted by the same sky stood next to that wooden boat smashing the sturgeons over the head with a small wooden truncheon.

As the cook was dragging the dazed sturgeons into his open air kitchen on the muddy river bank , out in the distance you could see and hear a drunk and corrupt fishing official. The official was screaming as he swung a large flash light in the air and repeatedly kicked a yelping wild dog. The dog had gotten to close to the officials pregnant Sterlyad he hid in a burlap sack near the river bank. The fishing official had poached a "Sterlyad" sturgeon. The Sterlyad is the rarest Sturgeon found on the Volga and is known as the Czar's fish. After beating the wild dog to death and before washing his hands the official returned to his hidden burlap sack and pulled out a Vodka bottle. As the wild dog yelped for the last time the official poured two large glasses of Vodka. After five hundred grams of Vodka and our long toasts for a new friendship, the official started justifying his poaching. "The pregnant Sterlyad?... Well.... I'm not poaching because the fish is a birthday present for my wife. She wants to make Sturgeon cake for me." Before heading back out to work the fishing nets the official gave me a great bear hug and said " I had quit drinking four years ago but today I drink with my American friend".

As the state fishing team's 9 hour fishing rotation was about to end. The early morning shadows from a tree fell upon on tiered and hungry fishermen sitting or standing around a wooden picnic table. As most of the fishing team ate fresh sturgeon boiled in sated water from the Volga. One or two of the fisherman took a quick nap in the golden cats tail rocking softly in the a delta breeze. Up above the picnic table in the tree was a dead raven hanging by its feet moving from side to side in the same delta breeze. The fishing team said the dead raven was scare off the bad omens other ravens bring to their fishing hole.

Every day or night as the state fishing teams rotation ends their nets are neatly resting on top of a small fishing barge as each member of the team cleans and hide their two too four poached male sturgeon in the bottom of the boats. Before the twenty to thirty cut heads of the sturgeon end their frantic fight through the air before resting on the rivers bottom four the team members wearing green and black clothing drag the ten to twenty pregnant female sturgeon caught during nine hours of fishing into shallower water. Hidden by the cover of thick brush one man beats the pregnant sturgeon over the head with a small wooden club. A razor sharp knifes used by the other two fishermen slit open the sturgeons belly before scooping out the sturgeons eggs and filling a large garbage bag. Seconds later , before the female sturgeon can feel the pain or realize they just had their bellies cut open they are being dragged back into deeper water. The sturgeon start flopping around in the water as the fight natures gravity. As the last female gives up her fight she sinks to the river bottom resting next to the hundreds if not thousand of decapitated heads from the male sturgeons.

Before the blood from the sturgeon could be washed off from the fisherman's blade, a speed boat with two men arrives and departs from the fishing hole. The two men in the speed boat wore blue track suits purchased over ten pounds of caviar from Victor for under 250 RBIs. The two men in the speed boat returns every day at the end of the fishing teams rotation and buy the fresh eggs.

Each day elderly W.W.II Veterans and pensioners living in the Russian fishing village of Ola wait at the fishing dock as the boats return to the village port. The elders greet the fishermen and their boats loaded down with fish. With every new sun rise during the fishing season these elders before fresh fish from the State Fishermen who only want to hurry home to their wives who wait next to the phone.

The moment the fishermen returns home from a 9hr fishing shift. The men inform their wives on their daily sturgeon count as their wives work the phone selling the poached meat and eggs. The wives use code words when selling the illegal caviar and sturgeon meat to their various clients and dealers. Most of the fisherman's wives have married three to four times and hate the local police and openly give the universal fuck you sign to the passing or visiting police.

Over 90% of the men of Ola have been in prison for poaching, rape, murder and theft. While the other 10% are still hiding from law. These ex-cons and fugitives are now Russia's state fisherman and role models for the young village boys who dream of becoming fishermen one day. Most of these young boys of Ola fish off the dock, pick dead fish out from fishing dry on the fishing dock. The kids wear fake tattoos, dream of owning their first pair of rubber hip boots, and of the day of catching his first sturgeon and telling their first fisherman lie. The biggest lie the kids are told is that they will be able to fish and pouch sturgeon just as there father and grandfathers did in the past

Fishing regulators on the Volga have expressed a growing concerns about the fate of the sturgeon that spawn up into the Volga from the Caspian Sea. The life of the Sturgeon on the Volga is endanger of disappearing along with the fishing villages tradition and the fishermen lively hood. The reason is because the young male and female sturgeon are being poached freely in order to supplement back pay from the Russian Government. Most local law enforcement in the region now turn a blind eye to the systematized poaching of Sturgeon and are working directly with caviar Mafia in distributing it to the black market..

The demand of illegal, low cost caviar selling at 2.5 pounds at $50 -$100 US Dollars on Moscow's Black Market is also a major factor that is hurting the Sturgeon's survival and next generation of Russian Fishermen. Russian experts on the Sturgeon say that by next year there will be no adult sturgeon left in the Volga for the next ten to twenty years. The reason for the depletion of the sturgeon is because the current generation of young and immature Sturgeon on the Volga have been fished out of existence.

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