Features of the fishing of Kola colonists and the Pomors in the 1860s

Features of the fishing of Kola colonists and the Pomors in the 1860s
By Zaretskaya Oxana V., Northern (Arctic) Federal University, Arkhangelsk

Petsamo BoatFrom the mouth of Grense Jakobselv River on the border with Norway, the Northern coastline of the Kola Peninsula stretches for almost 1,400 miles. It is also known as the Murmansk coast. Here the climate is conducive to settlement and each year the seas around the coast are filled with many species of fish.

In the nineteenth century only 627 colonist families lived on this coast. However, in the summer between the second half of May and the end of August, the number of people actively engaged sea fishing, increased by over 4,000. They came from Pomoria.
Despite the many similarities between the Pomors and Kola fisheries there are certainly many differences in fishing activity, that reveal the special nature of the fishery, and that can be traced to its historical origins. These differences in fishing were one of the reasons for the Russian authorities’ changing attitudes after the 1870-s. Suspicion and dislike took the place of approval and tolerance.

In order to study and understand the background of the Murman colonization, it is necessary to know more about the climate and the working conditions that the settlers had to live and work under.

In the 1860s fishing along the coastline of the Kola Peninsula in the spring/summer time was the main occupation for the settlers, and the most profitable. Fishing was not such a great challenge for them as it was for the Pomors.
While the profits of the Pomors (residents of Arkhangelsk, Onega and Kem’ districts) were largely dependent on their creditors (who could easily impose new levies and taxes), fishing for the Kola settlers became profitable because they were free of creditors and fished for themselves.

The settlers living near Kem’ started the fishing season in early March. The first who left their villages were the residents of Onega, they had to cover 100 versts (around 106 km) in order to reach the furthest settlement on the Kola coast. Pomor fishermen were already in debt but were still in great need of warm clothing, underwear and food, which they bought on their way to Kola. They  transported all their belongings on kerezhas – a wide board, with halves of hoops attached with shingle to both edges.

To haul all this with a shoulder strap was extremely uncomfortable, and the kerezha left deep tracks in the snow, showing how it wobbled from side to side. From village to village the price of food increased more and more, which had a negative effect on the psycho-emotional state, in addition to the severe physical exhaustion that occurred during this journey.

Finally the Pomors stopped either at Raspovolotsky station, or in Kola. On the next stage of their journey they were accompanied by ship owners or the ship owners’ families. In the first case the Pomors immediately headed to the sea coast – 250 versts away (around 260 km), but they had to walk 250 miles away (around 400 km). When they arrived at Kola, they had lived 2-3 weeks on the boats (shnayaki), before they reached the fishing stations – 300 versts (320 km) away.

Undoubtedly the Kola residents were in a better position, arriving less exhausted at their fishing stations. The total number of fishermen participating in the fishing was 2800 (800 residents of Kola and Lapland and 2000 Pomors).

In Kola, fishermen spent as much time resting as possible. They had no choice: if they had not recovered they would have been at the risk of dying in the fishing stations as there was no opportunity of obtaining any medical aid.

After arriving at the fishing stations, 16 – 30 people lived in the houses (the biggest was up to 3 square sazhens (about 13,6 m2) in size). They slept and prepared rigging on their bunks. It should be noted that despite the unsanitary living conditions, the large numbers of people and the dampness, diseases were rare, perhaps because of the suitable climate for the fishermen.

They usually reached their stations by mid-April. There they cleaned the barns for their rigging and the skeyas – small barns for salting fish. They fixed the yeluis, or poles to dry fresh fish on, and went to fish for bait – capelin or marine worms.

The crew of  Kola fishing boat would normally consist of five crew members, that of the Pomors’ – of four. The helmsman was the captain.

There were two baiters (nazhivlayaschik) on the boat, their task was hooking bait on longline (yarus) – a rope 1500-1600 sazhens (about 3400 m) long and strung with orostyags (short cords woven from three ‘dutchman’s threads’). One end of orostyags was tightly fastened to the longline and the other was equipped with hook. Each longline had a total of 4000 hooks. The baiting was a pretty time-consuming job. Hooks had to be baited as precisely as possible, so that fish could not cause the lines to twist. The baiters were usually very young – 16 or 17 years old.

The longline had to be set in the slack water period, i.e. between tides? Between the tides fishing stations were deserted, only boys (zuyoks) under sixteen remained there, they were too young to work as baiters and asked for fish as a handout.

The shnyak boats could be rowed or sailed. It was the helmsman who decided how to steer. The helmsman’s task was also to recognize the place where the longline would be set. In order to find the fishing place he took a bearing to an object on shore, or simply lest guryas – small heaps of stones. Near the fishing place, the boat was anchored; the anchor usually consisted of two nailed boards with long knots on the side. To keep the anchor knots vertically down, a flat stone was placed between the boards. The anchor was attached to a jug-shaped buoy, or kubas made of tree roots. The kubas was referred to as ‘berezheviy’ meaning ‘the first from the shoreside’. The rope that fastened it to the anchor – the ‘keeper’ or the ‘longline’s leg’ – was 150 sagenes long. Behind the ‘berezhevyi’ floated three more buoys: the ‘middle’, the ‘golomyanniy’ and the ‘rear’. There were three more buoys. After longline had been set, the fishermen rested and waited for kubases to emerge. The longline was lifted by the helmsman.

The Pomors stored the catch at their stations. They went back to the barns for fresh bait and always rowed their boats on the way back.

Kola fishermen caught less fish than the Pomors. They didn’t have as much rigging as the Pomors had. But they didn’t go back to the barns for fresh baits. Instead, they either took a bigger portion of it with them, or used the bait that had already been used. The total catch of Kola fishermen could therefore be more than Pomor’s daily catch.

Waiting for the next catch, the Kola settlers often gutted the fish in the sea; the Norwegian authorities disapproved of this and tried to stop this practice.

At the fishing stations Kola settlers sailed in the ships of their owners, while the free fishermen – in the ships of free customers. Unlike the Pomors who salted the fresh caught fish in special barns called skeyas, the Kola boat owners salted it right on board.

The helmsman did the splitting. They always cut the heads off (while the Pomors dried the heads and later sold them in Arkhangelsk, the Kola residents fed them to the dogs or cattle). The guts were removed by helmsman with the use of knife and sent to the oarsmen who either used a portion of them to add some weight to the boat, or left them for further drying. Kola fishermen could sell a portion of their catch to free customers who arrived in their own boats. The Pomors didn’t have that privilege and only received one third of the fish price, and had to dry the fish they caught in April, May and June and later sold it in Arkhangelsk. Their next catch was salted.

If we look at the conditions of the Norwegian fishermen, working in the waters of Finnmark neighboring to the Murman, the first thing to be mentioned is that the fish are found much closer to Norwegian coast than to the Murmansk coast, and, therefore, it took the Norwegian fisherman less time from the fishing station, and secondly, the Norwegian government organized the correct supply of bait, not only in the place of intensive fishing, but often to the fishermen who were at sea. This measure allowed them, without wasting time travelling to the coast and back, to catch fish and sell it at a profit to a merchant – fish buyer.

Everything mentioned above refers to a large extent to the Norwegians, the colonists on the Russian coast, who conducted their trading business in two ways: as Russian citizens, they enjoy all the rights of indigenous Russian population, and, as Norwegians by birth, they had no limits to the trade relations with their homeland Norway. Working for themselves, cost-free, these colonists, of course, were getting prosperous fast.

Russian Pomor fishermen were in a completely different position, partly because of the climate, but mainly because of the existing economic relations between capitalists and ordinary fishermen. It was the labour of these fishermen that financed the owner’s palaces, while they themselves were left in poverty and debt.

It can be thus concluded that the living conditions of the Russians and the Norwegian colonists were very different, and inevitably led to the suspicion of the Russian colonists and increased the number of complaints. The fact was that the differences in the way of fishing, living, differences in religion and language were the reasons that the Russian government’s “great expectations” failed. It should be also noted that the 1860s were the period of mass settlement of ethnic Finns and Norwegians on the Kola coast and incompetent administration of resettlement activities in Murmansk, failed to establish either an appropriate infrastructure or improvement the fishery.

Norwegian and Finnish colonists had no desire to communicate with Russians or to be assimilated, but the ‘foreign’ welfare, when compared with the Russian colonists lives, led to criticisms not only in the Russian newspapers but also in official reports. The picture of Norwegian colonists’ prosperity in contrast to Russian poverty always accompanied the descriptions of Murman in the last third of the nineteenth century. Such terms as “predators” or “slave-drives” became synonyms for Norwegian colonists (it is necessary to note that Finish colonists were considered as Russians, so they were not criticized in this way. After 1873 the numbers of Norwegians who wished to settle in Murman fell.

Russian authorities began to fear an influx of hard-working Norwegians, bringing to a head many problems (illiteracy, drunkenness, laziness of the local population), and began gradually, but effectively to displace foreigners from Murmansk. However reducing the progressive people among the colonists deprived the region of a stimulus for development and plunged it into a long stagnation.

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