This article was originally published in the July 1990 National Geographic.
Captain Yuri Nikolaevich Nevolin drew on a cigarette, then flicked it away into the calm gray Sea of Okhotsk. On the afterdeck of his fishing boat a frayed hammer and sickle fluttered in the August breeze.
“There are not enough boats to get all the fish out of the water,” said Captain Nevolin, looking out through the ragged fog. In front of us, in a setnet, hundreds of glistening black dorsal fins turned on the water's surface. Our net lifted under them, and the hundreds became thousands of trapped salmon, splashing for the last time off the coast of the island of Sakhalin in the Soviet Far East.
A crewman swung a mesh basket under the mass of fish, scooped up 50 or so salmon, and brought them on board. “We can catch a hundred tons in 24 hours,” Captain Nevolin said, shouting to be heard over the drumroll of fish thrashing in our hold. Soon the catch was so great it overflowed the hold in a silver carpet a foot deep. The morning’s catch of ten tons would fetch the equivalent of $60,000. And in the long winter ahead it would supply a canned source of protein and calories in faraway Moscow and Leningrad.