Fresh Water Clam Fishing for Pearls in Lapland - Linnaeus

Historical account of fresh water clam fishing for pearls in Lapland in mid eighteenth century by Linnaeus (1707-1778).

At Purkijaur I hired a man to show me the manner of fishing for pearls, for which I agreed to pay him six dollars. He made a raft of five timbers as thick as my body, and two fathoms in length. At each end was a staple to which the anchor was attached. This anchor was nothing more than a stone, tied round with twigs of birch that it might not be lost, to which he fastened a cord, about two fathoms in length, made of birch twigs. He was likewise furnished with a pole of the same length, which served him to steer his raft, as it floated along the strong current.

The bottom of the river is not easily seen at any great depth; but when he could distinctly perceive it, he dropped his stone anchor, fixing the upper end of the rope to the staple on the raft, by which it became stationary.

Whenever he wished to examine another spot, he weighted anchor, and resigned himself to the force of the current. Where the water was shallow, he stood up-right on the raft; but where the depth was considerable, he lay at full length, with his face downwards, looking over the edge of the raft.

He continued his fresh water clam fishing by means of a pair of wooden pincers, two fathoms in length, he laid hold of the pearl mussels (Mya margaritifera) and drew them up. The part of the pincers below the joint or hinge was about a span long, and of three fingers breadth, hollowed out at the points, one of which was curved, the other flat. Taking the other end of these pincers in his hands, he easily directed them to the spot where he saw shells lying. The latter were generally open, so that they might readily be discerned by the whiteness of their inside; but when the water is very much agitated, the animals immediately close their shells, though destitute of eyes or ears.

The form of the shell is elliptic-oblong, with a contraction, or shallow notch as it were, about the middle of their outer margin. the man opened them by means of a whilk shell, which he thrust with violence between the valves, for it is impossible to effect this with the finger only. He introduced the point of the whilk in the centre of the base or broader end, of the mussel, searching for the pearls chiefly towards the other end, on the inside of the valve. If the inside of the latter be white, the pearl is white; but if dark or reddish, the pearl is of the same colour.

When it was first discovered that this neighbourhood produced pearls, the river at Purkijaur was the place where the principal fresh water clam fishing pearl fishery was established. but now it is nearly exhausted. When the discovery of this bed of pearl mussels was first made, it is said the shells were in such abundance that nobody could reach the bottom of them, which is far from being the case at present.

There is no external sign about the shell, by which it is possible to know whether it contains a pearl or not. consequently many thousands are destroyed to no purpose before one pearl is found. It is also a great pity that all the mussels are killed in consequence of this fresh water clam fishing. Each pearl is either attached to the shell or loose. They are found at all seasons of the year and are sometimes thrown out of the shell spontaneously by its inhabitant.

More about Linnaeus, father of modern taxonomy after fresh water clam fishing for pearls.

Source: The Scottish Pearl in its World Context by Fred Woodward

Photos of Scottish River Tay

Learn about Scottish pearls

Famous Abernethy Pearl

Pearl gathering in Scotland is banned.

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