Monument to a Tiny Fish

An inconspicuous monument to the tiny fish that saved tens of thousands of lives during the Siege • Stanislav Mikov • LiveJournal • May 21, 2020

If you are strolling around Kronstadt and walk over the Obvodny Canal via the Blue Bridge, take a closer look. You may not have noticed an amazing monument to one tiny species of fish.

Its modest size is absolutely out of proportion to the considerable role that this fish, the stickleback, played in the history of wartime Kronstadt and Leningrad.

So let’s stop here for a moment, look down the canal, and find out what this fish is known for.

Как видите, памятник приходится специально обвести, иначе его просто не заметите
As you can see, I had to specially circle the monument. Otherwise, you wouldn’t notice it.

First of all, let’s deal with the name of the fish itself, so that there is no confusion. This article is about the stickleback [kolyushka, in Russian]. There is another fish with a similar name — smelt [koryushka, in Russian] — and it is even one of the city’s unofficial mascots. But that’s not the fish in question.

During the Siege, the populace quickly faced a shortage of food, so they had to make the most of all available resources.

Commercial fish soon ran out in both the Gulf of Finland and Leningrad’s river and canal system, so attention turned to a tiny fish that had always been considered waste — the stickleback.

In peacetime, this fish had not mattered at all. Due to its tiny size (3-4 centimeters), sharp spines, and bony fins, and the impossibility of fishing it with a net, the fish was not even used to feed cats. If fishermen accidentally caught it, they usually would immediately throw it away.

During the Siege, however, the stickleback suddenly became one of the most valuable resources.

Памятник колюшке
The monument to the stickleback

The residents of the besieged Kronstadt and Leningrad set to fishing the stickleback. Special teams were even organized that caught stickleback using wicker baskets and nets made of fabric and, sometimes, clothes. The maximum catch was obtained in the spring, during the ice run. It was possible to catch 4-6 kilograms in 3-5 hours.

The stickleback was used to make soup, and cutlets were made from the minced meat. It was also used to produce fish meal, and fish oil was extracted from it.

Stickleback oil was used not only for cooking, but also for treating wounds and burns — a special ointment based on it was developed at the Second Leningrad Medical Institute.

The monument was erected in Kronstadt in 2005. Initially the fish were painted silver, but a few years ago they changed their color to gold.

The memorial plaque located on the opposite side of the canal features a quotation from Maria Aminova’s poem “To the Siege Stickleback.”

To the Siege Stickleback

The shelling has stopped and so has the bombing,
But praise still sounds
For the little Siege fish
That helped people survive…

M.G. Aminova

The memorial plaque “To the Siege Stickleback” was made at the behest of the Kronstadt Council of Veterans

Translated by the Russian Reader

2 thoughts on “Monument to a Tiny Fish

    1. You’re welcome, Richard. I met the photographer, Stanislav Mikov, many years ago, and he contributed photographs to a project on “catastrophic urban development” in Petersburg that I was doing with a friend. I was glad to see that Stanislav was still exploring our city. If you look at his LiveJournal you’ll see that he travels other places as well, and has lots of other marvellous stories.

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