The Kalmyks have been acquainted with fishing for a long time. Not a key branch of the traditional economy, this occupation was usually undertaken by impoverished Kalmyks who had lost their livestock and were in need of other sources of income. By the eighteenth century, however, work migration to the lower Volga began to take on a mass character. At the fisheries the Kalmyks did two types of work. Those who were employed as fishermen went to the sea in groups of three or four on small boats called ongts. They used nets of various designs, including drift net (golm) and fyke net (tyavdg golm), as well as fishing rods (gahul'). Other Kalmyks were employed on land to cut, wash, clean, salt, and dry fish. At the turn of the nineteenth century fisheries had become the major source of employment for many Kalmyks living along the banks of the Volga and the Caspian Sea. Depending upon their financial situation, Kalmyks engaged in fishing could be divided into three groups - free, contracted, and hired fishermen. In the Soviet period, the Kalmyk fisheries constituted a state-supported enterprise.
Alexei Naranov, About Fishing and Fish Products
Anatoliy talks about his father-in-law who was a fisherman who could make and fix fishing nets. His father-in-law was a respected man, a diligent worker, and was often invited to presidium meetings. Anatoliy’s in-laws lived in Astrakhan’ where he learnt how to fish. Anatoliy fished in winter and even learnt how to eat raw fish from a Khant man. During the deportation years, he had to eat frozen fish. After the Kalmyks were allowed to return to their homeland, Anatoliy went to live with his in-laws in their place. When he returned to Astrakhan he noticed that the river had become shallow.
Anatoliy Safinov, About Fishing
Harvan is a fisherman. His father and grandfather also worked in this trade. Harvan has been fishing since he was 18. He worked in a sovkhoz called Krasnyi Moryak (Red Sailor). Today he goes fishing with his four brothers. In this video Harvan explains some fishing implements that are displayed at the museum of Lagan’. These implements include:
- A glass ball that floats on the water thus indicating the whereabouts of the fishing net,
-various needles to weave and fix nets,
-a wicker basket called zembel’ to carry fish,
-an implement to catch fish,
-a sledge for fishing in the winter,
- models of seines, including one called troika.
Harvan also demonstrates and talks about a model of a fishery set up on a boat that was used in the past. The director of the museum, Irina Muchaeva, adds that this floating factory was used to catch, smoke and can fish. The real boat also had a cinema, a shop and even a dance floor. Irina says that the showpieces in the museum have either been donated by the people of Lagan’ or made by local craftsmen. She also shows models of small sailboats. According to her, the Caspian Sea region is rich in terms of its fauna and flora and many people from other regions come here for summer holidays.
Harvan Sundetov, The Fishery
In the past, in Lagan’ the Kalmyks lived in small aimaks, including the Tsoomg, Tsyadr, Khar-Khol etc. The Kalmyks went fishing on big boats to the Caspian sea and transported the fish to Astrakhan’ on sailing ships. Konstantin’s grandfather transported fish on such sailing ships to Astrakhan’. Konstantin’s father also worked in the fishing industry. He was the head of the local fishing kolkhoz called Kaspiyskiy. The types of fish the Kalmyks caught were pikeperch (botakha), catfish (jaal), sturgeon (bekr), carp (sazn) and small fish (jirmyakha). People ate fish boiled, fried or salted. Fish was also used in soups. Black caviar was abundant and people ate it salted. The carp’s head was used in divination.