Fishing in Inari and Utsjoki

The concept of "Sámi livelihoods" has been used for a long time, but it is still unclear what this term actually means. When speaking of indigenous Sámi livelihoods and occupations, the common understanding is a reference to a primary production as the source of income. This includes such activities as agriculture, reindeer herding, fishing, small-scale family forestry, gathering of natural products, together with handicraft-scale manufacture of traditional articles. Nowadays, due to changed circumstances, modern money-earning activities exist parallel with the traditional ones.

Fishing stands today as an essential economic activity. Indeed, fishing has always formed a substantial part of the use of natural resources used by the ancient Sámi population. In our modern times fishing is only rarely the sole source of income for a household, but it gives it still enables the Sámi to meet their everyday nutritional needs. In summer, fishing tourists by the rivers Tenojoki and Näätämöjoki bring some extra income to the riverside population. For the locals fishing is usually a secondary or an additional occupation, if not a mere hobby.

Teno or Tenojoki, in the Utsjoki commune, is the border river between Norway and Finland. Lake Inari, in the Inari commune, is the largest lake in the S´pmi homeland, covering the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. It is also the third-largest lake in Finland. The lake covers over 1 000 square kilometres, and has over 3 000 islands and innumerable bays, promontories and sounds.

From the perspective of fishing for domestic consumption, the most important water areas are the rivers Tenojoki and Näätämöjoki, and the lakes in tundra-like mountain areas. The most important tourism fishing areas are the river Tenojoki river and Lake Inarijärvi, where the local Sámi are able to benefit not only from fishing for the pot, but also by selling services to recreational fishermen, including accommodation, boat rentals and rowing services on the Teno river.

The tourists compete with the locals for the fish. A good deal of the salmon heading for spawning grounds in river Teno are taken by nets and net traps in the sea in Norway before they reach the river. Roundly 25 % of the salmon taken in the river become catch of tourist fishers on license bought in Finland. On the other hand, tourism has proved to be a profitable field for the Sámi. At river Tenojoki, some of the Sámi hire boats and provide accommodation for salmon fishing tourists, while others act as rowers for salmon trolling tourists. Many Sámi people have built a holiday village or established a campsite for fishing tourists nearby their home.

Fishing in the Utsjo ki region is mostly for own consumption, rather than for sale to markets in Inari, but for some of the Sámi commercial fishing is an important support to the economy. The commercial most important catch is whitefish from Lake Inari and some of the smaller lakes in the area. All households in the area, whether engaged in commercial fishing or not, rely considerably on the outputs of these waters.. Fishing is mainly by means of gill nets, and almost every household carries out fishing activities at a number of different fishing locations. Nets with a height of about 2 meters sand a length of about 30 meters pro net are most for whitefish and laid out near the dwellings. Nets with a height of about 10 meters and a length of 60 meters pro net are mostly for trout. These larger nets, with all floats, weight, anchors, ropes and flags are heavy and cumbersome to transport and use. They are mainly used in fare away bigger lakes, where the fishers can anticipate a catch big enough to reward the investment in gear and the work it takes to transport and handle it. Mobility is a highly important aspect of these activities, and mobility is to a considerable extent a matter of over-land or over-ice travel, rather than boating on the lakes. This is because under-ice seining and other fishing with nets under the ice plays a large role in the aspect of the household economy.

Hook and line fishing is a favourite recreational activity of the boys and young men both in winter and summer. Ice angling begins about December and ends after June 1st. Lures of various colours are dangled through holes made in the ice to catch perch, pike, grayling and trout. These catches are often very important additions to the family dinner table in households where income is slim. This kind of fishing is a relatively young innovation among the Sámi.

Summer fishing with rod and reel is considered a sport, but brings in fair supplies of trout, grayling, pike and perch for some households. Many local salmon fishers at river Teno have reached a high level of professionalism in fishing with rod and reel. Also when a fisher does not sell his catch, the knowledge and skills is used for getting the valuable big salmons for the households own use. When acting as guiding rower for tourists, the knowledge and skills are put to use to provide the tourist with good chances to get his salmon. This again increases the chance that the happy customer returns for the next season ready to pay his guide well, and that the good reputation of the guide spreads among tourist fishers. Both ways of using the knowledge and skills bring economic value to the household, and so prowess as salmon fisher is in high esteem. One can say, that salmon fishing with rod and reel, introduced to the Teno river Sámi by wealthy British lords in the 19th century, has developed to a local Sámi tradition and culture.

The cycle of fishing activities in the Inari and Utsjoki area in many respects moves contrapuntally with the reindeer herding activities. Some under-ice fishing goes on during the whole winter and early spring. It is especially in December-May as the lake is ice covered that fishing gets more intensive for many households. Reindeer calving is nearly over when net-fishing for whitefish in open water becomes important for a brief period before midsummer. It is a good time to catch fish, and high time to get away from the winter diet heavy with reindeer meat.

The use of snowmobiles makes it possible to haul fishing supplies and equipment (including boats) to locations that were previously beyond the mobility range of an individual household. The men of Partakko and Sevettijärvi, for example, seldom exploited the remote lake Paudijärvi for under-ice fishing. Since the advent of snowmobiles in 1964 they have made extensive use of this lake. A more striking example of this increase in fishing mobility is the exploitation of lakes even more far in the backcountry, such as lakes Kolmisjärvi and Surnujärvi. Some of the inhabitants of Partakko and Sevettijärvi have since 1964 begun to fish actively in those distant lakes, since they are able to haul boats and equipment to the location using their snowmobiles. Numbers of other individuals in the region have reported that they are now exploiting lakes that they previously considered beyond their effective range of operation.