The Sámi people and Atlantic salmon

In the Sámi region we would like to express our own views on the reasons why it is imperative for the Sámi to participate in every conceivable way in the protection of the remaining wild salmon stocks. In northern Europe the environmental types and conditions for life based on them are more sharply divided into marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Owing to the Gulf Stream, the sea temperature is fairly constant, varying only within a few degrees, whereas the annual fluctuation in terrestrial ecosystems can be as much as 70º C. Along the coast of the Arctic Ocean the growing period is longer, the mean temperature higher than inland and the annual temperature fluctuation smaller. Fish production in the North Atlantic by way of many different species benefits Sámi offshore, fjord and river fishing. If indigenous livelihoods in the Same region were to depend entirely on the production of terrestrial ecosystems, there would be a far smaller permanent human population present in the area.

Due to its northerliness, primary production in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems is, with the exception in the sea, poor. It has been calculated that the annual production of the tundra sustains only 5 % of the human population that the more southerly boreal coniferous forest is capable of supporting. Fish, whale, seal and bird stocks are relatively large and diversified, thanks to the sea. The Sámi have become adapted to capitalising on the difference between the land and the sea, thereby ensuring their survival and that of their culture down the ages.

The main centres and Sámi settlements, indigenous livelihoods and culture lie beyond the boreal coniferous forests. They are the subarctic birch wood and treeless areas divided by river valleys leading down to the Arctic Ocean. A large number of Sámi live on the shores of the Arctic Ocean or very close to it. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, fishing offers a natural basis for existence along the north coast of Norway. The effect of this warm ocean current is conveyed far inland via rivers like the Teno and the Näätämöjoki. These conditions for survival in recent years have become severely threatened by external agencies.

From time immemorial the Sámi people have earned their living or part of it by catching salmon in the rivers of the Arctic Ocean region, including the rivers Teno and Näätämö. River fishing and the Sámi culture have developed hand in hand. Until recently, it has been possible to utilize salmon without endangering spawning stocks. International agreements - including the agreements between Finland and Norway since 1873, the NASCO Convention of 1982, and Norway's resolution to stop drift net fishing in 1988 - have secured salmon growth in the sea, as well as their passage and spawning in rivers. Fishing for salmon in the rivers is the best way both ecologically and economically to manage and regulate wild salmon stocks and it is the way the Sámi people have always fished. At present, the river Teno is the most important Salmon River in Europe, with original, pure stocks of salmon which support recreational fishing, the best use of the stocks. Unfortunately, hardly any other ecological unity of this kind is to be found anywhere else within the present range of the Atlantic salmon.

The continuation of salmon fishing in the Teno depends entirely on the natural reproduction of salmon. It is a great challenge to researchers to maintain the highest possible production in the river, without destroying genetic diversity. The countries from which the salmon come should be responsible for this charge. I would like to refer to the Sámi Parliament which has in earlier context drawn particular attention to the section of the Rio Convention applying to biodiversity, on the basis of which the agreement for the river Teno was drawn up, prohibiting the cultivation of salmon in net cages close to the river mouth, because of the danger of fish diseases and other hazards spreading into the river Teno.

Over the centuries, the Sámi have developed complementary, overlapping livelihoods in harmony with their environment, thus demonstrating their skill at integrating economy and ecology. However, to be successful, the Sámi economy requires a lot of land, land which is extremely sensitive to disturbance or ecological imbalance. The salmon-based Sámi culture along the Arctic rivers requires the river ecosystems, which serve as a nursery and breeding area, to be preserved in as natural a state as possible. It is necessary to protect the watercourses over as broad an area as possible in order to support development of the entire ecosystem and culture in the Sámi region. Above all the preservation of the complete ecosystem in the valleys of the river Teno and the river Näätämö must be ensured because there Sámi life is in its purest form. This in turn would safeguard the natural production of young fish and thus preserve the wild salmon stocks. The Sámi are endeavouring to ensure this by international agreements and by safeguarding the run of salmon from the sea up the rivers and the reproduction of the salmon.

During recent years the cultivation of Atlantic salmon in cages has enormously expanded in Norway. Salmon escaping from net cages pose a threat to the original salmon stocks in the rivers. The origin of cage salmon is genetically a mixture of various Salmon River stocks and there is a great danger that cage salmon will mix with the natural salmon gene pool, so weakening sooner or later the vitality of salmon species. The spreading of fish diseases is likely, too. Since 1973 fish farming has been licensed by law. By the Act of 1985, the regulation of aquaculture has been expanded further to include the cultivation of crustaceans and molluscs, too.

Referring to what has been said above, the Sámi Parliament is of the opinion that salmon cultivation in cages as it stands, forms so great a risk and threat to the salmon stocks of the river Deatnu (Tenojoki) and the river Njeavdam (Näätämö) that the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries should immediately cancel the granted salmon farming licences in the regions concerned. I would like to mention that The Sámi Parliament has especially referred to the Rio Convention item concerning biodiversity and to the River Teno Agreement between Finland and Norway where Salmon cultivation in cages so close to the river mouth that the danger of spreading fish diseases and other disadvantages into the Deatnu River exists, is forbidden unambiguously.

Already many positive steps have been taken to restore salmon stocks, including the restriction of drift net fishing along the coast of Norway and salmon catch quotas determined in the Northern Atlantic. By agreement between Finland and Norway more strict regulations have been implemented in order to protect wild salmon.

In the region where the living conditions are weak, it is very important to find means of improving the livelihood and standard of living of the people. One way to enhance the living conditions and protect the salmon stocks could be to buy by the current value the annual catch or part of it caught by the drift net and drift seine fishing and traditionally constructed salmon traps in running waters. The catch saved by these methods should be reserved for tourist fishing. The value of the salmon catch from tourist angling is manifold in comparison with traditional fishing methods. For instance, Salmon catch of 5000 kg by angling would increase some millions of marks income in the Deatnu valley. Traditional fishing is no longer profitable. The price of salmon from fish farms is nowadays very cheap. Finally, it might even be possible to obtain European Union money for redeeming the above mentioned fishing gear and facilities.