Monday, 01 May 2017 00:00

Smoking freshwater species the traditional way

The Curonian lagoon is separated from the Baltic Sea by the Curonian spit. The lagoon is 1,584 sq. km in size and harbours a number of fish species, which provide the basis for a fishery in the lagoon. The lagoon, like the spit, is divided into a Lithuanian part in the north and a Russian part in the south. At the northern end of the lagoon is the city of Klaipeda, where a narrow strait connects the lagoon to the Baltic sea.

The Lithuanian river, Nemunas, discharges into the lagoon contributing to a low salinity of 0-7 psu in the northern part. As a result of this low salinity the lagoon is home to several freshwater species including perch, pike perch, roach, bream, and smelt. In the Baltic Sea on the other side of the Curonian spit, fishermen can target flounder, cod, and Baltic herring.

Stanislovas Papievis sells fresh, smoked, and dried fish products. The latter are processed at his own facility.


Fresh and processed fish for sale

Stanislovas Papievis is a fisherman and processor who smokes the fish he catches. Since his youth he has been fishing, spending first nine years with the high seas fishery, and then fishing in the Curonian lagoon where he together with his fishermen catch about 120 tonnes a year. The fishing is seasonal. In the autumn when the weather is rough his fishers go out with one 14 m vessel, while in spring when the weather gets warmer the fishers go out in 3 m vessels each crewed by two people. In summer the men go out at 5 in the morning and are back in the port by 9 where the fish can be iced so that there is no risk of the fish getting spoilt. The seasonality is also reflected in the catches. Smelt for example is caught in the spring and autumn, while in summer there is very little fishing. The depth of the lagoon varies from 1 m on the eastern (mainland) side to 4 m on the western (Curonian spit) side averaging 3.8 m. Mr Papievis uses static nets to catch the fish. The nets are placed in the water and his employees sail to the nets to empty them and return to the processing facility, where the fish is processed immediately. At the shop the fish is sold gutted on ice as well as smoked.

Fish from the Curonian lagoon and from local aquaculture farms, as well as imported species are all smoked giving customers a wide range to choose from.


Imported species are also popular

Some of the fish in the display counter are not locally sourced species, for example, smoked salmon, butterfish, and tuna. Mr Papievis buys these species from local fish traders, which allows him to buy the volumes he needs. He recalls approaching a Norwegian salmon producer, but was told that the volumes had to be much larger to be able to buy directly. Other species such as sturgeon and catfish which he also smokes he buys from local fish farmers that are producing these species. Apart from hot and cold smoked products Mr Papievis also salts and dries fish, another popular speciality. The shop serves the local area mainly, but also attracts customers from as far as Klaipeda, a distance of over 40 km, who are drawn by the traditional smoking techniques that are used to process the fish. The facility has four wood-fired smoking ovens that use a special variety of wood to generate the smoke

Catfish salted and maturing on a frame prior to being smoked.


Unique products from day to day

This artisanal method of smoking means that external factors such as weather conditions can have an impact on the process but also result in a final product that is more or less unique reflecting the temperature, pressure, humidity etc. of that day. While most of the smoked fish is sold to the end consumer often for events like weddings or christenings, fresh fish is also bought by hotels and restaurants. Having been in the processing business for the last 12 years, Mr Papievis has noted certain trends, among them that carp tends to be eaten more in the summer months while winter is when customers prefer fatty fish like mackerel and herring. Despite this the assortment of fish in the shop varies only slightly. Some of his customers are Lithuanians who work and live, for example, in the UK and they buy large quantities of fish to take with them, when they go back home.

In the processing facility, multiple rows of cleaned and salted fish arranged on frames are waiting to be smoked. In the winter the temperature is low enough to allow the fish to mature without refrigeration. In summer however the fish is kept cool during the maturation period. After the maturation the fish are introduced into the oven and either hot smoked or cold smoked, the difference determined by the temperature. After smoking the fish is allowed to cool and is then placed on display in the shop. By adding garlic or pepper or other spices to the fish and by smoking gutted fish, conventional fillets, and butterfly fillets, Mr Papievis ensures that he has a product to meet every taste.