Climate, Fish and Fisheries: Local and Indigenous Perspectives (Rovaniemi, Finland, April 16-17, 2019)

by Anna Stammler-Gossmann

The first meeting ’Climate, Fish and Fisheries: Local and Indigenous Perspectives’ (organizer Anna Stammler-Gossmann) took place in April 16-17 in Lapland, at the Arctic Centre (Rovaniemi, Finland). Thematic issues of the community meeting were focused on different frameworks for valuing and experiencing changes around the waterscape from the perspective of the fisheries sector. (ICE LAW workshop)

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Indigenous fishing (Kamchatka, Russia); small-scale fishery (Finnmark, Norway), photos: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

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Large scale Russian fishery, photo left: Marine Informatics (Murmansk) archive; right: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

The meeting brought together people from Murmansk (North West Russia) and Finnish Lapland, whose activities are directly related to the fisheries sector and fishing activities. One group of participants is involved with Russian large-scale commercial fisheries. This group included those who monitor fish movements in the Arctic Ocean and provide information to the Russian trawlers on where to fish. Other parties of this group were a representative of WWF who cooperates with Russian fishers in the Barents Sea; a supplier of gear and equipment for trawlers; a MSC representative responsible for running certification and eco-labelling for wild-capture fisheries in the Murmansk region; a coordinator of regional Association of commercial fisheries and others.

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Local and indigenous participants from Finnish and Russian Lapland represented another group, for which fishing and being surrounded by water is more than just business or fish supply for consumption. For them it is related to a whole range of social behaviors: knowledge transfer, dealing with different perspectives concerning fishing right, risks, gender issues, childhood memories or the partaking in the national past.

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Indigenous perspective: Fishing as way of life

Practices of fishing in the Russian Far East, Cameroon (Africa) and the Small Island States (South Pacific) presented by researchers brought additional comparative components to the discussion in  geographical scope and scales of fishing activities. The comparative perspectives of the workshop became a powerful factor for emphasising the commonality of participants’ interests. At the same time, it also brought very lively discussion when the perspectives concerning national legal regulations, fishing rights and definition of climate change varied.

Some of the partners from Murmansk pointed to existing differences in Western and Russian interpretations of the changes associated with the climate change.

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Climate change: warming or cooling? Workshop presentations, photo Anna Stammler-Gossmann

In addition, practitioners and scientists raised questions about different criteria in evaluating changes in the water environment. It was stated that changes in fish movement challenge international regulations and each nation’s interest. It brings on the agenda questions ‘whose fish’, ‘what sustainable fisheries’, or ‘fair quota distribution’ and different criteria of stock evaluation by international fisheries institutions and national actors are.

Practitioners from Murmansk showed – using cod, mackerel and herring as examples – changing fish migration routes and how they might be influencing commercial fishing activities and uses of seawater space. The type of ambiguities and ‘tools’ that are available within the legal framework to deal with these kinds of changes was demonstrated on the example of invasive snow crabs in the North-East Atlantic. The increase of their appearance has already brought the issues to the forefront of the relation between Norwegian and EU fisheries.

In the international waters of the ‘Loophole’ located between the Exclusive Economic Zones of Norway and Russia, the snow crab issue strains Russian-Norwegian relations in respect to fishing vessels from other countries using ‘flag of convenience’ in that area. The practitioners reported about ongoing joint Russian-Norwegian efforts to regulate the current situation within existing regional framework.

Local and indigenous fishers from Finnish and Russian Lapland pointed out controversial practices of implementation of laws and reported about individual strategies in dealing with them. A Finnish entrepreneur involved in fishing tourism reported about difficulties to cooperate with national regulations and how he had to move his activities to Norway – away from fishing in ‘overregulated’ fresh water in Finland to coastal fishing in the Barents Sea.

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“How do I fish?” Local and indigenous perspectives, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann

A Sami representative presented information about indigenous fishing rights for urban and rural Sami. It reflected the ongoing in Finland debates on legitimizing the collective indigenous claims for land and water without urban-rural distinction. The matter of fishing rights of rural Sami (without buying a license for fishing in the residential area) has become a sensitive political topic on the societal agenda and went to the court this year.

During the workshop, participants also debated the question of ‘hydroelectric power plant or fish?’ and compensation policies to recover fish grounds like, for example, introducing alien species into local waters, where salmon migration was disturbed. Participants presented different points of views on how to keep the balance between the natural environment and societal needs.

The workshop in Rovaniemi pointed out the challenges of integrating different discourses and varying forms of knowledge that exist among diverse partners. At the same time, we learned how important it is to understand the modes of communication. All participants emphasized the complexity and interdependency of processes around fisheries and water uses. Finally, everyone underlined that measuring, classifying and regulating fishing activities are a matter of knowledge exchange, understanding of both ends of the spectrum and the essence of skills. It should be based on developing of cooperation practices using already existing negative and positive experiences.

The final session of the meeting Knowledge to knowledge workshop: Different techniques of knife sharpening and fish skinning demonstrated practically how efficient and useful cooperation between practitioners and researchers could be.

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Fish skinning workshop, photo: Anna Stammler-Gossmann


This community meeting was supported by the Leverhulme Trust (grant number 220000061711). Event organiser wishes also to thank Dr. Dmitri Klochkov (Murmansk Marine Informatics) for his assistance.