Leonid Gagiev, a financier turned fisherman, runs his own fish farm deep in the mountains of South Ossetia. He has solid plans for his farm’s expansion, but he needs investments to get his idea off the ground" />

The Ossetian financier turned mountain fisherman

Leonid Gagiev, a financier turned fisherman, runs his own fish farm deep in the mountains of South Ossetia. He has solid plans for his farm’s expansion, but he needs investments to get his idea off the ground

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Leonid Gagiev’s fish farm is located deep in the mountains of South Ossetia, miles away from civilization. Leonid discovered this spot himself 10 years ago on a fishing trip, and has stayed ever since.

Today, his small farm has grown into Southern Gates, a farm of five pools of trout, salmon and caviar, which serves not only local customers but also clients from Russia.

"At one time I had a Laika, a beautiful dog. One night I heard barking. I went out into the darkness and called him––he didn’t respond. The next morning we found him, he’d been attacked by wolves. It was my fault. That day I’d left him some meat and bones, and the smell attracted the wolves. I’d decided not to get any more dogs, but then Murzilka wandered here. I was alone, lonely … so, here we are."

"At one time I had a Laika, a beautiful dog. One night I heard barking. I went out into the darkness and called him––he didn’t respond. The next morning we found him, he’d been attacked by wolves. It was my fault. That day I’d left him some meat and bones, and the smell attracted the wolves. I’d decided not to get any more dogs, but then Murzilka wandered here. I was alone, lonely … so, here we are."

"At one time I had a Laika, a beautiful dog. One night I heard barking. I went out into the darkness and called him––he didn’t respond. The next morning we found him, he’d been attacked by wolves. It was my fault. That day I’d left him some meat and bones, and the smell attracted the wolves. I’d decided not to get any more dogs, but then Murzilka wandered here. I was alone, lonely … so, here we are."

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“I grew up in this valley, in Kasagdzhyn (meaning fish in Ossetian). It must have been predetermined that I would enter the fishing business. As children we would divide up the local rivers and streams between us, and we were only allowed to fish in ‘our’ waters. Little by little I started to fish on ‘foreign territory’, thinking that others were also poaching on ‘my’ turf.”

When Leonid started his fishing business in 2010 he was just an amateur. After reading up on fish farming, he returned to the rivers of his childhood and saw it in a different light. For ten years now 60-year-old Leonid has been farming fish alone, as nobody has come to join him apart from a couple of stray dogs.

Water is delivered to the pools by the river Susag (Ossetian for ‘silence’). The farm produces about five tonnes of fish per year.

“If I knew how difficult it was going to be I never would have started this business. Years ago, when I drove the fish down from North Ossetia for the first time, very few fish made it. I suffered huge losses and was in despair, but I didn’t give up. Soon everything began to turn around.”

Leonid sells his fish for around 600-700 rubles [$9.60] per kilogram. The fish weigh about 5-7 kg on average, but some can weigh up to 20 kg.

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Caviar sells for about 4,000 rubles [$60] per kilogram. Meanwhile, in North Ossetia, caviar sells for twice that.

“When I started, I lived in the back of an old GAZ-66. The bed in the cabin was so small I couldn’t even extend my legs. I lived there for three years. The land wasn’t even mine, it was leased from the government.”

Today Leonid has an entire house to himself. Life on the farm was too hard on his family, so they stay in North Ossetia and visit during the summer.

 “Thieves were coming to get fish for free, so I installed a surveillance camera and got approval for a gun. I want to protect this farm.”

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Next to the house he is building a restaurant from river stones, which he brings up from the river using a special “crane” he invented.

Leonid has big plans for the restaurant. If everything is constructed as planned, fish will swim in a pool beneath the restaurant’s glass floor.

But things are moving slowly. Leonid, a former financier, knows he has a long road ahead. To expand his farm, he plans to introduce smoked fish and a wider range of caviar, and he will need 50 million rubles [about $76,000].

He prepared a draft of his business project which he submitted to South Ossetia’s investment agency.

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“According to my calculations I would have been able to pay off the loan in 5-10 years, but they rejected my project.”

Though Leonid was only allotted a two million ruble [ $30,000] loan, he was able to make a few investments.

“I bought a refrigerator and a smokehouse. I’ll finish repaying the loan in November, and then maybe I can get another.”

Directly across the street from the farm is another large river. Along this river Leonid has already dug pits for large pools. If all goes according to plan, the farm will grow considerably.

Life for Leonid is looking up.
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