The fish population of the Azov Sea: Caviar and other side products
Author: KRAIKOFSKY ALEXEI
The word caviar now is used for the salyed fish eggs of Acipenseridae (sturgeons, or the Red fish as the locals used to call it in the Azov region) which is almost a symbolic part of the Russian cuisine. Russia for centuries has been the biggest producer of this delicacy. But in the 17th c. the foreign visitors noted that the Russian used to eat fish eggs not only of sturgeon (they called it chernaia ikra – the Black caviar), but also of pike, whitefish etc. (known as zheltaya ikr a – the Yellow caviar). As for the sturgeon caviar – it was mainly delivered to the Russian market from the Volga and consequently originated from the Caspian Sea (which is until now the major source of sturgeon and caviar in the World). The sturgeons of the Black and Azov Sea region didn’t play significant role on the markets of the Central Russia. Some part of this delicacy was exported to Europe, especially to Italy which used to be a big market for sturgeon caviar1. Noteworthy the caviar of the Black and Azov sea at the same time was also transported to the Mediterranians through Istanbul2. As for the caviar of the Azov and Black sea – it has become part of the Russian fishing industry during 17th and 18th c. when the Russinas gradually moved South and finally in the 18th c. got the complete control over the Azov Sea and the Northern Black Sea region.
The Russians traditionally used to eat a lot of caviar prepared by various methods. The foreigners mentioned that the Russians in the 17th c. used to mix the caviar with onion, pepper, oil and vinegar, and this meal was not bad3.
Preservation of this delicacy has been inseparable part of the sturgeon fisheries as the fishing season is based on the spawning migrations and the females are full of fish eggs. When the fish was hucked, the fishermen had to cut it in certain manner and separate the fish eggs. The further technology in the Azov Sea area was rather simple. The fishermen sorted fish eggs, put them into brine, then sorted once more and distributed into linen sacks before it was pressed. The result was the pressed caviar (payusnaia ikra) – very traditional Russian delicacy which provided significant revenue on the market. For instance on the market of Eisk, in the Kuban delta area, the price of the pressed caviar fluctuated in the 19th c. between 16 and 80 rub. per pood (approximately 1 to 5 rub. per kg.)4. In Mariupol in 1913 when the delivery of fish to the market decreased the price of the pressed caviar was recorded on the level of 125 rub. per pood, or about 8 rub. per kg5.
Fish glue was another important side product of sturgeon fisheries. The swim bladders of sturgeons were cleaned, cut and dried and the result was the pure glue in plates. This commodity in the 19th c. had superb international reputation and was exported from Russia quite actively. For instance in 1896 Russia exported about 66 tons of sturgeon glue for 262000 rub6. The glue from the stellate sturgeon (Acipenser stellatus) had the reputation of the highest quality in comparison with the Beluga sturgeon and the Russian sturgeon7.
The sturgeons (the Red fish) were not the only source of side products complementing the fish itself. The fishermen of the Azov sea used to get fish eggs from the females of pike pearch. The commodity was prepared right in the shell called yastyk. It was salted in the holes and the result of that procedure was called galagan – the salted pike pearch ovaries full of caviar that constituted certain part of the local fish products, of cause, much less valuable than the black caviar8.
 See for instance Kurts B. G. Сочинение Кильбургера о русской торговле в царствования Алексея Михайловича. Kiev. 1915. P. 93 – 95; 257 – 259.
 Кузнецова А. С. Становление и развитие азовских рыболовных промыслов Кубани (XVIII-XX вв.). Slaviansk-na-Kubani. 2009. P. 28.
 See for instance Kurts B. G. Сочинение Кильбургера о русской торговле в царствования Алексея Михайловича. Kiev. 1915. P. 95
 Кузнецова А. С. Становление и развитие азовских рыболовных промыслов Кубани (XVIII-XX вв.). Slaviansk-na-Kubani. 2009. P. 69.
 Mariupolskaia zhizn. 31.05.1913.
 See Brockhaus & Efron. ???
 Sabaneev L. P. Жизнь и ловля пресноводных рыб. P. 519.
 Totsenko L. T. Рыбные промыслы казачьих областей Азовского бассейна во второй половине XVIII - первой половине XIX в. Диссертация... к.и.н. Ростов-на-Дону. 1970. P. 135.
B. G. Kurts Сочинение Кильбургера о русской торговле в царствования Алексея Михайловича [Kielburger essay on Russian trade in the reign of Alexei Mikhailovich]. Kiev. 1915.
A. S. Kuznecova Становление и развитие азовских рыболовных промыслов Кубани (XVIII-XX вв.) [Formation and development of Azov fisheries of Kuban (XVIII-XX centuries)]. Slaviansk-na-Kubani. 2009.
Mariupolskaia zhizn. 31.05.1913.
See Brockhaus & Efron. ???
L. P. Sabaneev Жизнь и ловля пресноводных рыб. P. 519.
Totsenko L. T. Рыбные промыслы казачьих областей Азовского бассейна во второй половине XVIII - первой половине XIX в. Диссертация... к.и.н. Ростов-на-Дону. 1970. P. 135.