it is prohibited to fish then it means that my
children will stay hungry," says fisherman
Armen Grigoryan, from the village of Noratus.
"People have no choice as there is no other
work in our village and what else can people do
else to keep their families?"
It is a cold November day, the last "legal"
day of fishing on Sevan.
Armen, 25 and Igit Asatryan, 21, face a bitter
dawn of gray clouds and cutting-cold winds and
the angry waves of the big lake.
The young men watch the lake swell against the
coming storm while they dress for work. They put
on rubber suits that reach the base of their necks
and rubber gloves are pulled on over dry woolen
gloves. By motor boat they hurry to the center
of the lake to get their day in before the weather
gets any worse.
Out there somewhere are 11, 200-meter long tow
nets, placed there the day before and holding
now, Armen and Igit hope, dozens of white fish.
Three hours later the fishing partners return
sopping wet and red from the cold. Huge dogs wait
impatiently for their share of the catch, and
are the first to sample the day's yield.
This day 270 whitefish have found their way into
the nets and now find their way into the care
of a saleswoman from Charentsavan. She pays the
fishermen 100 drams (about 17 cents) for each
fish -- two cold days' work (not counting expenses)
turning in about $45.
In the market many fishermen like Armen and Igit
are selling their take to salespeople from several
places throughout Armenia. The salespeople are
then hurrying off to reach their trade centers
while the fish remain fresh. A fish bought for
about 17 cents off the lake will sell for about
23 cents in the city.
Armen and Igit's 270 catches, then, is worth
about $16 (profit) to a dealer.
summer 100 drams is a very good price," Igit
says. "Sometimes it happened when we sold
the fish only for 5 drams because, as a result
of the heat, the fish start to rot as soon as
we take them out of the water. Also sometimes
it happened when we had to leave rotten fish to
If it is a work that robs from nature, it is
also one that depends on nature.
And on luck, Armen says.
"One day you can be lucky and another day
you are unlucky. Today the nets didn't pay their
way as the take was bad. We used to catch 2,000
fish and there even wasn't a place in the boat
And that simple mathematical evaluation represents
the concern of those who recognize Lake Sevan
as a major natural resource and contributor to
the economy of the republic.
The Ministry of Nature Protection allowed that
600 tons of fish could be taken in 2002. Nobody,
however, can say exactly how many tons were fished.
Some indication might be found at one of the
fish processing stations of Noratus. There, workers
get paid about 1 cent for each fish they scale.
The five workers there scale or smoke about 4,000
fish a day (and sometimes up to twice that much).
On average 4,000 whitefish would make about 1,600
kilograms. Over a 10-month period, then, fishermen
provide this single processing station with around
480 tons of fish in a year. And there are dozens
such processing plants around Lake Sevan.
Whitefish were brought to Lake Sevan from Russia
in the 1920s, when research found that the predominant
species, ishkhan, fed only off the bottom part
of the deep lake. Whitefish, which could flourish
from organisms prevalent in the upper waters of
the lake, were introduced as a complement to the
For the next 40 years or so, however, whitefish
showed no sign of thriving.
But during the 1960s, whitefish started to show
an increase, largely due, scientists say, to stagnation
that was bad for the lower-water fish, but good
for the whitefish.
"All lakes have a tendency toward pre-stagnation
and usually that process takes place during 1000
years," says Boris Gabrielyan, deputy director
of Hydro-ecology and Ichthyology Institute of
the National Academy of Sciences. "However,
in this case as a result of anthropogenic factors,
those processes are taking place quicker. In fact,
during the last 50 years we precipitated the process
by approximately 500 years by polluting the lake,
by sharply lowering its water level and by increasing
shows that from 1970 to 1990, whitefish in Lake
Sevan increased from about 10,000 tons to about
But by 2000, the number had dropped to 5,000
tons. And, as numbers decrease, the size of the
fish increase as there is more food for fewer
"From the qualitative point of view it is
good, but it is bad from the quantitative point
of view," Gabrielyan says. "It means
that the number of fish started to decrease.
"Now many fishermen are involved in illegal
fishing. These days many fishermen prefer to solve
their problems by 'other' methods and not to make
things more complicated while dealing with the
According to the National Park of Sevan, as of
December 16, 1600 whitefish, 72 tow nets, 152
crawfish-traps and 4 water vehicles were found
and confiscated from those caught fishing during
"If the fishing of whitefish continues this
way then it's possible that the number of that
fish will decrease," Gabrielyan says. "Taking
into account the fact that these days whitefish
is the main commercial type of fish for Armenia,
then it's possible that in the nearest future
we will not have any normal fish at all."
(To see a photo gallery of fishing Lake Sevan,