Castaways for a Day

This past January, over 500 unlucky fishermen found themselves drifting helplessly at sea.


Montana Lee

Ice breaks and fragments over a dark blue backdrop.

Living in the information age, people typically are well educated about the many things that are happening around them and around the world. Once in a while, though, major news can fly over everyone’s heads, often because of regional isolation. The story of 536 fishermen getting lost at sea no more than a few months ago has fallen solidly into that category.

In Russia and in many other parts of the world, it is normal for hundreds of fishermen to gather around one area to fish all at once. Ice fishing often can be a needed extra source of income, especially when it gets exceptionally cold and unwieldy everywhere else and other professions become unviable. Many rivers also happen to be home to large fish. This ice fishing is routinely done on large floating chunks of ice, as cracks will often form and allow for efficient catches. This is a popular model of fishing. However, it carries one major downside: sometimes the ice becomes so volatile that, once in a blue moon, a crack can form and split apart. Two more groups have been stranded in a similar fashion within the same week. On January 22nd, 2020, 300 fishermen floated off into the water, while on the 26th, another group of about 600 went off into the sea. Overall, it is not completely unheard of in the Sakhalin region of Russia, to find oneself on a giant ice floe in the middle of nowhere.

This incident shows the dangers associated with ice fishing. Anna Vikatos ’22 said “No, I would not want to do that,” when asked about ice fishing.

Predictably, the Russian government was angry about this situation. They came to the conclusion that irresponsible fishing habits were to blame. Rawin Hidalgo ’23 agreed, stating, “Ice fishing is dangerous; it’s common sense.” The Russian government, unlike the large glaciers of the country, did not intend on leaving these other 532 people to aimlessly drift. It responded quickly, handling the issue on January 29th, 2020. Using boats, people were transported safely off the ice. The government managed to handle the situation promptly enough to avoid the large ice floe from getting far out, making the issue relatively swift.

Many of the stranded fishermen were not willing to wait for action, though. At least 60 fishermen managed to get back to shore despite frigid water temperatures. One method was to break off a piece of the ice and then use it as a raft, rowing back. The majority of people opted to take a more passive approach, waiting for authorities. Alejandro Ordonez ’22 said, “I would swim back to shore.” Jake Kothandarman ’22 disagreed, saying, “I would wait for the authorities.”

 A factor in this was that the fishermen apparently did not adhere to warnings, made to stop this exact scenario. Ultimately, while the crisis almost occurred, the government managed to stabilize the situation. However, this is a message to fishermen: sometimes personal safety needs to come before the catch.

“Ice fishing is dangerous; it’s common sense,” said Rawin Hidalgo ’23.