Social practices, rituals and festive events
Traditional craft skills
Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe
Lamprey Fishing and Preparation Skills in Carnikava (2019)
The Carnikava lamprey. The Carnikava lamprey is the popular name in Latvia for the European River lamprey (Lampetra fluviatilis) for which the traditional fishing season since ancient times has been from the end of summer until spring - the lamprey spawn season. Formerly, the germanised name Neunagens or nine-eyes was used; amongst locals, the name Carnikava zutiņš was also used (dialect word) - this word is rarely used nowadays.
Carnikava (now Ādaži) municipality
In a narrower sense, the people connected to fishing and preparing lamprey in Carnikava are the Carnikava fishermen and lamprey cooks, for whom these activities are both their trade and their way of life. Currently, two fishery and lamprey preparation companies operate in Carnikava. Fishermen also have the knowledge to cook the lamprey well, but they prepare it only for their own use.
In the broader sense, every person living in the Carnikava municipality relates to lamprey. A company called SIA Taču būda (Weir house) operates in Carnikava; there is a senior dance ensemble Tacis (Weir); there is a homestead in the area with the name Murdiņi (Fish traps). Lamprey has helped people from Carnikava maintain their ties to their motherland even when living abroad: the son of the last owner of the Carnikava manor, Kurt Goegginger was making fish traps and preparing lamprey in the “Carnikava way” while living in Canada. Uldis Siliņš, a Carnikavian living in exile, recorded unique statements about lamprey fishing and preparation in his book Mēs esam carnikavieši (We’re the Carnikavians).
Importance in Community Life
Carnikava is not conceivable without lamprey - its fishing and processing has been one of the most important conditions for the economic growth of Carnikava. Carnikava is often referred to as the Lamprey Kingdom.
The Gauja River lamprey caught and prepared in Carnikava has always been regarded as the best in Latvia. In 2015, the lamprey was included in the European Union Register of protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications. The designation Carnikavas nēģi or the Carnikava lamprey refers only to lamprey caught fresh with fish traps from 1 August to 1 February at the lower Gauja River at the mouth of the river and prepared in Carnikava.
The traditional Carnikava method of lamprey processing has changed less than lamprey fishing techniques.
The lamprey is prepared according to an old recipe, the first written records of which date back to the nineteenth century, but it was in use already long before that.
The lamprey is cooked in an oven on alder wood coals, then placed on a gridiron in two rows and grilled for four to five minutes on each side until golden brown.
The grilled lamprey is then placed in a container, hot water is poured over it, salt is added, and everything is sautéed until the lamprey is soft. The liquid is then removed, the lamprey is cooled and placed in a wooden bucket (a kubliņš).
The now-gelatinised liquid from the sautéing process is added to the contents of the kubliņš and a special press is added to the lid of the kubliņš so the lamprey is under pressure and its fat mixes with the gelatinised liquid, thus achieving the unique flavour of the Carnikava lamprey. When the lampreys were prepared at home they were flattened with a wooden plank before placement in the bucket, while the factories used different types of presses.
The Carnikava lamprey is therefore also called the flat lamprey. Today, the lamprey is prepared according to the traditional recipe. The recipe has not changed except that the addition of gelatine is now also allowed, which was not in the historical recipe.
The name Carnikavas nēģi is used for grilled lampreys in jelly if the product consists of 70% lamprey and 30% jelly. Nowadays, lamprey is packaged not only in wooden kubliņš buckets, but also in in plastic boxes in a wide range of net weight - from 0.270 kg to 10 kg. In the time that the lamprey spends in its journey from the fish trap to the table, it is “embraced” by the hands of fishermen and cooks at least 7-8 times. Usually, each lamprey cook has a specific fisherman from whom they buy the fresh lamprey.
Historically, the lamprey in Carnikava was caught by local fishermen and prepared - grilled and sauteed in jelly - by the family of the fisherman, passing on the skills from generation to generation.
Historical records mention lamprey fishing in Carnikava already in the 17th century. The lamprey fishing season started in late July or early August. The Carnikavians have long had a saying “when rye is in heaps the lampreys are in fish traps”. Lamprey weirs (tači) were made of wood. Lampreys were caught with wicker fish traps that were attached to the weirs.
Today, Carnikava fishermen use a different method adjusted for the environment—long mesh (net) fish traps. Instead of laying weirs, they drive long wooden poles, bostagi, into the riverbed. The length of these poles depends on the depth of the river and can reach eight metres.
Both historically and today, fishermen acquire and prepare the wood themselves. Along with the poles or bostagi, the fishermen also drive in backpoles and once the lamprey fishing season begins, they attach the fish traps to the poles. Continuing the tradition, the fishermen prepare and mend their own mesh traps.
Beliefs, Rituals, Unwritten Rules
Fishermen still use the wisdom of their ancestors to find the best fishing spots and determine the influence of weather on the fishing. Since the Gauja riverbed changes every year, fishermen need to constantly find new fishing spots.
Inheritance and Transmission
Today, only some of the descendants of the ancient fishermen's families are working in their trade, so there is a search for young locals who are willing to become Carnikava fishermen in the future and inherit the skills and knowledge of previous generations.
To honor the Carnikava lamprey and safeguard the local traditions, the Carnikava lamprey has been on the Carnikava municipality coat of arms since 2010.
Starting with 2001, the lamprey fishing and preparation traditions are being popularized by holding a unique event - the Lamprey festival. Each year, the local community participates in the special Lamprey Festival Parade which strengthens the community and shows local support for the lamprey tradition and efforts to popularize it.
The Carnikava lamprey has always been seen as a real delicacy and the pride of all Carnikava people, even sometimes serving as a local currency. These days, the Carnikavians often choose lamprey in jelly as a gift when visiting near and far lands.
The Carnikava lamprey fishing evolved according to the socioeconomic conditions, adapting to the age and transfer of land ownership. Historically, lamprey was most likely caught using weirs and fish traps almost everywhere.
The biggest difference between areas was the construction of the weir and the trap, which differed depending on the peculiarities of the riverbed in each area. The wicker fish traps differed by shape. In Carnikava, they were large and round. Nowadays, the Carnikava net traps still differ in shape, size and construction from lamprey traps used in other areas.
Not only the catching techniques were different, but also the names of the parts and tools of the weirs. When Carnikava was under the rule of the Carnikava manor (until 1918), all weirs were the property of the estate with the two first weirs “feeding” the manor and the rest rented out to the fishermen. The manor controlled both the volume of the catch and adherence to fishery rules. In the spring before the ice begins to drift, the weirs were dismantled so they would not cause ice to pile up and be carried out to sea along with the ice. The process was repeated every year. Today at least five weirs are built, each with its own name.
The frying shop in Carnikava was most likely opened in the late nineteenth century, but the Fishing Industry society opened its new factory building in 1935. The companies also exported the Carnikava lamprey to Europe.
Interestingly, spots on the weirs were even rented to Rigans, but only Carnikavans tended them.
Fishing lamprey with weirs continued into the Soviet times; however, mesh fish-trap fishing also became popular. The last weir in Carnikava was built at the beginning of the 1970s. During the Soviet period, two fishing brigades worked on the river, out of which two fishing companies emerged. The lamprey processed in the Carnikava fish factory was mainly exported to Moscow and Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).
Carnikava has always been not only the land of lamprey fishing but also lamprey tasting. Since the late nineteenth century, people have been travelling to Carnikava for the purpose of tasting lamprey. The construction of the railway in the late 1930s, brought the arrival of tourism-oriented “lamprey trains” to Carnikava. The guests were offered tours of the weirs, visits with the cooks, as well as lamprey tasting.
During Soviet times when Carnikava lamprey was not freely available in stores, Rigans visited the local fishermen who secretly fried and sold the local delicacy. There are stories that the bags of Rigans were sometimes searched at the train station and the homes of fishermen were raided by inspectors.
Nowadays, the lamprey branding is still widely used in the tourism industry, not only during the Lamprey Festival. In the Carnikava tourism information centre, one can buy souvenirs shaped like lamprey or with lamprey prints, and the local crafts are adorned with lamprey motifs. Tour agencies organize special “Lamprey trips”, visiting the exhibitions in the museum of local history, exploring the programme Nēģu stunda (Lamprey hour) and participating in the grilled lamprey tastings.
Lamprey fishing is tied with observing the natural cycles, old wisdom and traditions.
1. Knowledge of nature.
The start of lamprey migration and its intensity has a proven correlation with the wind direction, moon phases, water levels, and changes in the riverbed, as well as other knowledge of nature. Just like in the olden days, the local Carnikava fishermen forecast the behaviour of lamprey in different circumstances. For example, it is widely known that it is easier to catch lamprey during North or North-Western winds in waters clouded by rain, and that the traps will be empty after a night with full moon. There are old observations around lamprey preparation as well, for example, lamprey should not be washed in freshwater because it makes removing the mucus impossible and even exacerbates the production of mucus in lamprey.
2. Oral tradition and special lexicon.
When leaving for fishing, the fishermen still observe old beliefs: for example, that lamprey should not be caught on certain days of the year; also, one should never reveal the exact size of the catch.
Historically, when lamprey was caught with weirs, each part of the weir - the stake, pole and fastening had its name. Nowadays, as wicker fish traps have been replaced with net fish traps, the poles that are driven into the riverbed to attach the traps to them are called bostagi. But formerly, the word bostagi referred to the thinner poles which were driven into the riverbed between two thicker poles - stāvkājas (“stand-legs”). Even though nowadays the fish traps are made of net, not osier wicker, the traditional names murds and kurvis (basket) are still used. Interestingly, the name “zutenis” referred to both the lamprey and the wooden sticks used to flip lampreys while grilling.
3. Culinary traditions.
In Carnikava, lamprey has long been eaten either freshly grilled on gridiron or prepared in jelly, instead of smoking, marinating or preparing it in any other way, as is done in other regions. Over time, Carnikavians also started to come up with and experiment with more modern culinary recipes. Nowadays, during the Lamprey Festival, participants also prepare lamprey soup; there are also several lamprey salad recipes, yet still the old preparation traditions prevail.
Two fishing companies (SIA) currently operate in Carnikava - SIA Leste and SIA Grif 93. Both companies emerged from crews working in Carnikava in Soviet times. Five years ago, Carnikava still had 20 working fishermen, but now the number has shrunk to 14. There is only one active fisherman in Carnikava who is younger than 35.
SIA “Leste” currently employs eight people:
1. Aldonis Lūkins (b. 1969),
2. Artūrs Jakobsons (b. 1986),
3. Andris Miglāns (b. 1968),
4. Alberts Skavenecs (b.. 1936),
5. Jānis Krastiņš (b. 1938),
6. Jautris Rikards (b. 1944),
7. Normunds Lūkins (b. 1962),
8. Raimonds Lācis (b. 1973).
SIA Grif 93 currently employs 6 people:
1. Vladimirs Burdiļovs (b. 1939),
2. Ēriks Liepiņš (b. 1960),
3. Jānis Neilands (b. 1943),
4. Ārijs Švarcbahs (b. 1961),
5. Harijs Švarcbahs (b. 1961),
6. Agris Freibergs (b. 1964).
The retired Carnikava fisherman Arvīds Ozoliņš (born 1938) also knows the old weird building skills - he participates in activities aimed to popularise traditional skills (conferences, video production, TV productions etc.)
Three Carnikava fishermen participate in the programmes organized by the Carnikava Local History centre: Nēģu stunda (The Lamprey Hour) and Ciemos pie Carnikavas zvejnieka (Visiting the Carnikava fisherman): SIA Grif 93 fisherman Ēriks Liepiņš, the youngest fisherman of SIA Leste - Artūrs Jakobsons, as well as the retired fisherman Arvīds Ozoliņš.
Currently, five lamprey cooking companies are actively operating and advertising themselves in Carnikava. A few of them also work with licenced lamprey fishing. These are mostly family ventures with 2-4 permanent workers:
1. SIA “Zibs”,
2. SIA “Krupis”,
3. i/u “Gundegas IP”,
4. SIA “Gaujas nēgi”,
5. Gaļina Ļevočkina.
Just a few years ago, SIA “Gaujas Krasti” and IK “Dietlavi” were also still working with lamprey preparation in Carnikava. SIA Gaujas Krasti was liquidated in 2017, and IK Dietlavi is currently not processing lamprey and are not sure of the future as the owner of the company is a man of more than 80 years of age whose descendants are not planning to work in lamprey preparation. Another entrepreneur Jānis Kartupelis (SIA Gaujas nēģi) also reveals that his trade will not be inherited by anyone in the family.
Institutions and Organizations
The Ādaži municipality council;
The Carnikava Local History Centre;
The Carnikava People’s House, the Carnikava parish administration;
Fishing companies that work with lamprey fishing:
SIA “Grif 93”.
Lamprey preparation companies, some of which also work with licensed lamprey fishing:
i/u “Gundegas IP”,
SIA “Gaujas nēgi”.
Strengthening the Tradition
Threats to the Tradition
1. Changes in legislation regulating the process of catching and processing lamprey may negatively affect local fishermen and cooks.
2. The biggest threat is the reduction in the number of lampreys. Lampreys are most threatened by pollution of rivers and marine waters, river dams, poachers, and climate change. According to the data of the BIOR institute, compared to other rivers of Latvia, the number of lampreys will reduce most in Gauja in the upcoming years.
The profit made by fishermen depends on the amount of lamprey caught. Additionally, the profession of a fisherman is not prestigious enough. The current forecast estimates that in 2-5 years one of the Carnikava fishermen crews might stop operating.
The number of cooks is also decreasing. Multiple companies have gone bankrupt due to a lack of local lamprey. The processes are also affected by the buying capacity of locals and interest in lamprey as a local delicacy.
If this trend persists in the future, in the absence of promotion and conservation measures, lamprey trades of lamprey fishing and preparing are in threat of going extinct, just as the trades Carnikava rafters and anchormen disappeared.
Carnikava municipality council, reg. No. 90000028989
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http://www.zivis.carnikava.lv/lv - The website provides information on Carnikava fishermen and the protection of fish resources. Several sections have been devoted to the catching of lamprey and lamprey as a geographical product, including the “Lamprey fishing” section where both photo and textual information are found.
http://www.carnikava.lv/ - extensive information on the history of the municipality, Lamprey festival, fishermen, lamprey cooks, etc.