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it is trodden with the feet by a person who wears leathern stockings. The caviare is scarcely known in this country; but in Russia and Italy vast quantities are consumed—not exactly as an article of diet, but as a relish with bread.
H. What does it look like?
U. O. I hardly know what to compare it to; but it is of a black colour, and seems a sort of jelly, about as hard as new cheese, and full of the little eggs of the fish.
F. Is it very nice?
U.O. It is so, to the taste of some people; but not to mine. I did not like the look of it; and the taste was too rank and strong to please me. Now let us return to the fisheries.
The vatagas are furnished with small vessels of various sizes and shapes, for the convenience of going out to sea when necessary; and there is, besides, a large vessel employed to carry 10 Astrakhan the fish that are taken, and bring back such provisions and salt as may be required. Near the buildings for the accommo, dation of the people engaged in the fishery, there are various sheds where the roes are prepared, the isinglass dried, and the fish properly kept.
The fishing season commences about the be
ginning of April, when great numbers of little fish are observed pressing towards the shore. Some of these, particularly a sort of scale-fish, called the obla, are taken and kept alive in wells, to be used as bait during the season.
F. Then do they fish with a rod and line ?
U. O. We shall see presently. These little fish are pursued by immense swarms of the largest sort of sturgeon, which is called beluga. The time in which these can be taken seldom exceeds a fortnight, and therefore the men work day and night while the season lasts. The mode in which they are caught is rather curious. The fish are captured by means of a rope 262 feet in length, to which are fastened 125 lines, each about nine feet long, and each furnished with a large angling hook. This rope, with its lines and hooks, is called a “nest,” and thirty of these “nests” tied together commonly belong to one fishing machine, which is therefore furnished with 3750 lines and hooks, and is between 2000 and 3000 yards in its whole lengh. Between every two “ nests ” there is a stone which weighs several pounds, and the two ends of the whole machine are furnished with wooden anchors. This machine yields a little when strongly pulled, but as it at the same time floats with a great weight in the water, the strongest fishes, when once hooked cannot escape. The anchors prevent the machine from being put out of its situation, or in any way deranged by either the efforts of the fish or the agitation of the sea.
After the lines have been laid, they are visited twice a day; the hooks are tried along the rope, the fish that are caught are taken up, a cord is passed through their gills and they are put down into the water again, in order that they may be drawn on shore alive. The beach is laid with planks, on which, when the fish are pulled to the shore, they are cut up; the useless parts are thrown away, the sounds are given to the isinglass makers, and the roes are thrown into tubs, which are carried away by the caviare makers. Other parts are also preserved for uses of less importance; and then the fish are taken to an under-ground cellar, where they are put into brine; and when taken out of the brine - vats they are sprinkled with salt, and placed in layers one above another, in places parted off in the same cellar and lined with ice.
F. Sir, what is the ice for ?
never corrupt while they are frozen. If puss, there, were frozen to death, her body would be preserved in a perfect state for a thousand years, if it remained so long frozen.
Jane. But poor pussey shan't be frozen, Sir.
U. O. I am sure I don't want to freeze her, my dear.
H. How big are these fishes, Sir ?
U. O. They are often very large. I have heard of one that measured twenty feet in length, and that weighed 2800 pounds, of which the roe alone is said to have weighed 800 pounds. This fish was a wonder, however; but it is not uncommon to take belugas of 1000 or 1500 pounds' weight.
F. And how many do they catch ?
U. O. That, of course, is uncertain. In good times one vessel may, in the course of twentyfour hours, get more than fifty of these large fish ; and it seems that the whole number taken in one year is about 103,500, which afford 30,000 pounds of isinglass and 414,000 pounds of caviare. This, however, is not the work of one season ; for the belugas are also captured in autumn and winter. In the latter the fishing machinery is introduced through holes cut in the
ice, and the fish that are taken are carried over the ice in sledges to the vataga, where they are frozen, fresh as they are, and sent off to Astrakhan.
No sooner has the shoaling of the belugas ceased in the spring season than that of the sevruga, a smaller species of sturgeon, begins. There is only one season for them, which lasts no longer than two weeks ; but during that period they are so exceedingly numerous, that one vataga usually catches sixteen or twenty thousand. They are seldom more than ten feet in length; but their roes and their sounds are much more esteemed than those of the beluga, and more is paid for them. Part of their flesh is salted down, and part dried in the sun. According to a calculation made several years ago, the number of sevrugas taken in one season is about 1,350,000, which afford the value of 16,0001. in isinglass, and 40,0001. in caviare. The number taken of the small or proper sturgeon is about 300,000; and their isinglass is valued at 65001. and their caviare at 10,0001.
F. Is the sturgeon nice to eat ? :
U. O. Yes. The fish is delicate and well-flavoured, and has been compared to veal. The