Every year in August and September, the people of Ust’-Avam, a remote indigenous community located in the Taimyr region of the Russian Arctic, toss nets into the Avam River to catch tugunok fish, an important traditional food.
This year, the community stopped fishing early, around the start of the month. There were no tugunok to be found. Nor could locals find the fish at other common sites along the river basin fed by Lake Pyasino, which lies just a few miles north of the industrial city of Norilsk.
Gennady Shchukin, a member of the Dolgan ethnic group, has little doubt about the culprit: In late May, a reserve fuel tank at a power plant near Norilsk burst open, flooding local waterways with an estimated 23,000 tons of diesel oil.
The spilled oil drifted for miles, turning part of the Ambarnaya River that feeds Lake Pyasino bright red. Norilsk Nickel, the Russian nickel mining company responsible for the spill, says it acted swiftly to contain the pollution.
But Shchukin worries the contamination is far more widespread than the company claims, and that his people will be living with the consequences for years.