Monthly Archives: January 2013


Indigenous peoples of the Ecuadorian Andes 1

The Quilotoa Loop

On a recent trip to Ecuador, I spent time exploring communities of the Andes Mountains. Ecuador is a small country in South America, but it is also one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world. In less than a day, you can travel from the lush tropical jungles to the Andes Mountains or the Pacific Ocean coast.

Prominent inhabitants of the Ecuadorian Andean communities are the indigenous peoples collectively called Quechua (Kichwas in Ecuador). They are several indigenous ethnic groups living mostly in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia who speak a Quechua language.

A funny anecdote about the woman below. Nora and I were on our second or third day of the Quilotoa Loop hike. We stopped at the edge of the Rio Toachi Canyon, evaluating how long it would take us to descend the canyon and ascend to a town on the other side.  A lone woman was working her small field along the trail. When she saw us with our heavy, bulky backpacks, she waived us to come closer. The woman was holding a hatchet in her right hand. As we approached, she stopped working, dropped the hatchet and reached out for Nora’s arm to draw her closer. She put her arm around Nora and asked me to take a picture of both of them. She looked happy when I showed her the photos on the back screen of my camera and allowed me to take a few more photos of just her.

The Quilotoa Loop

From Wikipedia: “Many indigenous women wear the colorful traditional costume, complete with bowler style hat. The hat has been worn by Quechua and Aymara women since the 1920s, when it was brought to the country by British railway workers and are still commonly worn today… The traditional dress worn by Quechua women today is a mixture of styles from Pre-Spanish days and Spanish Colonial peasant dress. Younger Quechua men generally wear Western-style clothing… Older men still wear dark wool knee-length handwoven bayeta pants. A woven belt, called a chumpi, is also worn which provides protection to the lower back when working in the fields”.

The Quilotoa Loop

The Quilotoa Loop

The Quilotoa Loop

Zumbahua Saturday Market

Zumbahua Saturday Market

Zumbahua Saturday Market

Zumbahua Saturday Market

Zumbahua Saturday Market

Zumbahua Saturday Market


Inside a Kamchatka salmon-processing plant 1

See also: “Kamchatka: Coastal sockeye salmon fishery“ and “Kamchatka: the in-river sockeye salmon fishery“.

Processing sockeye salmon at the Vityaz-Avto plant

Ozernaya River sockeye salmon is one of the most highly prized salmon fisheries in the Russian Far East. It is the largest sockeye salmon stock in Asia. The fishery is well managed, especially compared to other Russian salmon fisheries. The escapement, or the returning fish that have successfully passed the fishing grounds without getting caught, are closely monitored, as are the numbers of fish caught. A permanent weir is used by the KamchatNIRO scientists, a regional fisheries management agency, to count salmon throughout the fishing season. One of the companies fishing this salmon stock even passed an eco-certification by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). This was the first fishery to become MSC-certified in Kamchatka.

After recent legislation allowed companies to lease fishing parcels for 20-year periods, the more successful fishing companies on Ozernaya River began investing in new fish-processing facilities. Although many Russian fish-processing plants are quite delipidated, this particular company has put in a lot of money in the past couple of years to produce a state of the art plant to process Ozernaya River sockeye salmon.

Using the latest technology, the company can now produce first-class value-added products such as smoked and salted salmon fillets and slices. Interestingly, if you have ever bought a packaged sliced smoked salmon with paper leaflets between the slices, you might be curious to learn how those paper leaflets are inserted. Quite simply, it’s done by hand (see the two bottom photos). There is currently no machine capable of separating thin salmon slices and inserting waxed paper between them automatically.

Processing sockeye salmon at the Vityaz-Avto plant

Processing sockeye salmon at the Vityaz-Avto plant

Processing sockeye salmon at the Vityaz-Avto plant

Processing sockeye salmon at the Vityaz-Avto plant

Processing sockeye salmon at the Vityaz-Avto plant

Processing sockeye salmon at the Vityaz-Avto plant

Processing sockeye salmon at the Vityaz-Avto plant

Processing sockeye salmon at the Vityaz-Avto plant


Barack Obama Inauguration: 4 years ago

Barack Obama Inaguration 2009

Four years ago, I was visiting my family in NYC. At the last minute, a friend and I decided to take a night bus to Washington, D.C. to witness the commotion of the first Barack Obama inauguration. Here’s the original post about that even: http://www.mihaelblikshteyn.com/2009-01-27/obama-inauguration-the-people/

I decided to dig up a few more photos from Obama’s first inauguration that I never posted before, as well as re-edit the posted photos. Hope you enjoy this updated slideshow: Barack Obama Inauguration 2009.


Kamchatka: the in-river sockeye salmon fishery

See also: “Kamchatka: Coastal sockeye salmon fishery“.

Ozernaya River sockeye salmon beach seining

Unlike the salmon fisheries in the Untied States, Russian commercial fishermen catch a substantial proportion of salmon in rivers. On Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East, the regional government has recently leased fishing parcels, both coastal and in-river, to Russian fishing companies for 20 years. One of the goals for the long-term leases was to incentivize local fishermen to maintain healthy, sustainable salmon populations. Another reason was to encourage fishing companies to invest in the fishing and fish-processing technologies.

Ozernaya River sockeye salmon beach seining

Ozernaya River sockeye salmon beach seine fishery

Fishing companies received fishing parcel allocations based on their prior catches. Some fisheries had seen fierce battles for parcels closest to river mouths. The closer a parcel is to the river mouth, the more fish fishermen are likely to catch. In Russia, this new system was dubbed the “Olympic System”.

Ozernaya River sockeye salmon beach seine fishery

The Ozernaya River, which supports a remarkable sockeye salmon fishery, rivaling that of Bristol Bay, Alaska, has half a dozen in-river parcels. The most productive parcels, closest to the river mouth, have seasonal crews of fishermen stationed there for the duration of a fishing season. Each crew consists of 10 to 15 male fishermen and one or two female cooks, living in trailers or huts at the parcel. Visiting various salmon fisheries on Sakhalin and Kamchatka, I have noticed that fishermen are always men and cooks are always women.

Ozernaya River sockeye salmon beach seine fishery

Fishing is done with a beach seine. A beach seine set starts with one end of the net held by a couple of fishermen at the upstream end of the parcel, demarcated by a boundary marker. The rest of the ~200-m long net is deployed from a skiff. Fishing regulations prohibit blocking more than 2/3 of the river channel by the net during beach seine operations.

Ozernaya River sockeye salmon beach seine fishery

Once the net is set, a group of a dozen fishermen concentrate the fish by pulling the upstream end of the net toward shore, working their way downstream. Half way through, a truck on the downstream end of the net pulls the rest of the net out. When fish are aggregated at the downstream end of the net, a removable codend (“tonya”) is attached to the net opening and fish are driven into it. The open end of the codend is tied shut and pulled up by a tractor, so that the top layer of fish is at the water surface.

Ozernaya River sockeye salmon beach seine fishery

Ozernaya River sockeye salmon beach seine fishery

The fish are left  in the river for half an hour to die. A tractor with a brailer, a small net attached to its arm, scoops up the fish into a truck for delivery to the processing plant. See next week’s posting for photos of a Russian salmon processing plant.

Ozernaya River sockeye salmon beach seine fishery

For more photos of this and other fisheries, please see the Photo Archive.


Kamchatka: Coastal sockeye salmon fishery

Sockeye Salmon Set (Trap) Net Fishery

Just like in Alaska, the US Pacific Northwest and northern California, Pacific salmon are the keystone species to the Russian Far East. Unlike the Pacific Northwest, six species of salmon spawn in the Russian Far East. Masu, or cherry salmon, is the 6th species only found in the western Pacific Ocean along east Asia. Pink, chum and sockeye salmon are abundant and commercially important. With a strong global demand for Pacific salmon, and an increased interest in documented sustainably-caught salmon in Europe and the US, Russia has emerged as one of the last untapped frontiers for salmon fisheries.

Sockeye Salmon Set (Trap) Net Fishery

As a fishery biologist working for the Wild Salmon Center, I spent the past two summers on the Kamchatka Peninsula and Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East working with Russian commercial salmon fishermen. A growing number of them are interested in having their fisheries Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) – certified. MSC is the leading and, arguably, the most stringent globally-recognized fishery certification program.

Over the next several weeks, I will be posting photos of coastal and in-river sockeye and pink salmon fisheries and fish processing on Kamchatka and Sakhalin, two eastern-most Russian provinces. I want to start with the coastal sockeye salmon fishery near the town of Ozernovsky (Ozernovskiy), at the southwestern tip of Kamchatka. Ozernaya River, which flows from the Kuril (Kurilskoe) Lake into the Sea of Okhotsk, supports the largest sockeye salmon population in Asia, rivaling that of Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Sockeye Salmon Set (Trap) Net Fishery

It is a pristine area, with the lake and its network of streams, where the sockeye salmon spawn, located in a well-guarded nature reserve. A fisheries management agency counts the number of returning salmon at a weir at the lake and declares fishing closures to achieve the desires number of spawners. Continuous patrolling along the river and around the lake prevents any significant poaching, a big problem in other parts of Russia.

Sockeye Salmon Set (Trap) Net Fishery

Several companies fish the Ozernaya River sockeye salmon in the river and on the coast. In September of 2012, one of the main companies there, Vityaz-Avto, became the first company to be MSC certified in Kamchatka and only the third to be certified in Russia.

Vityaz-Avto fishes for Ozernaya sockeye salmon both in the river and along the coast . Coastal salmon fishing in Kamchatka is done using passive stationary “set nets”. These are two-kilometer long traps nets that stretch from the shore. By regulation, they must be located a minimum of two kilometers away from river mouths.

Sockeye Salmon Set (Trap) Net Fishery

The set up consists of a two-kilometer long leading net set perpendicularly to the shore. One end is anchored on shore and the other, the off-shore end, leads to two symmetrical trap nets floating at the surface. They are stretched and anchored in one place by weights and the floats keep the top of the net at the surface. The traps have conical entrances that allow fish to enter but keep them from finding a way out. As salmon follow the coastline on their way to their natal spawning streams, they encounter the leading net which leads them into the traps. The traps are emptied daily using a “bailor” or a conical net that scoops the fish out of the trap into a “prorez“, an unpowered metal barge with a mesh netting that is towed by a boat to the processing plant on shore.

Sockeye Salmon Set (Trap) Net Fishery

For more photos of this and other fisheries, please see the Photo Archive.

For more information about this fishery, read the WWF’s article “Conserving Kamchatka Salmon through Marine Stewardship Council Certification” and Wild Salmon Center’s “My month in Kamchatka as an independent fisheries expert“.