Deatnu / Tana / Teno – The poor agreement and new stakeholders at the Finnish riverside

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23.5.2018 12:00

John Nystad, the deputy mayor of Kárášjohka gielda/Karasjok municipality and a local Sámi politician will share his critical remarks on the current agreement concerning the fishing rights in the border river, in the Sámi homeland between the states of Finland and Norway.

The Tana River Fish Management (TF), Deanučázádaga guolástanhálddahus in Sámi, is a local administrative body of the Norwegian side of the Tana River established in March 2011. The main tasks are of a private law character, like regulating the fishing activity, providing and organizing River Policing during the fishing season, being responsible for operating and managing the revenues from the sale of fishing licenses. These tasks were previously assigned to the County Governor of Finnmark.

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Tana River Fish Management is organized with a group of nine members, where the local fishermen with net fishing rights appoint five. The Tana and Karasjok municipalities each appoint two representatives that are not in possession of net fishing rights. The term of office is four years. The Chairman and the deputy Chairman are elected by the Tana River Fish Management. Shortly after the TF was established, Norway and Finland opened negotiations for new agreement for the fishing rules in the Tana water coarse. The harvest rate for especially some salmon stocks in the river had been too high, leading to depleting of those stocks. The old regulations were also not according to the precautionary principle, and new regulations were needed. 

The Norwegian Ministry of climate and environment was leading the negotiations at Norwegian side, but also the local managements were a part of the Norwegian delegation. The Tana River Fish Management had two representatives and the Sámi parliament had one representative. The representatives from the local and governmental level of the management had many small battles during the process. What were really the status of different stocks, how much reduction were needed to rebuild these stocks, what measures were needed, and which groups of fishermen had to carry the biggest reductions in access to the fisheries?

The toughest battles came however in the negotiations with the Finnish side. The never-ending story seemed to come to an end in the fall of 2015, but new elements appeared, and the agreement wasn´t signed by the Ministers in the two countries before September 2016. This happened after the Tana River Fish Management got new representatives in the late fall of 2015. The negotiations had been mostly closed processes from the public in the valley, and the new members had other views on the situation than their predecessors. Elements that had gone through hard discussions early on in the negotiations reappeared. The governmental representatives were not willing to discuss these elements this late in the prosses, and this lead to a harsh climate between the governmental representatives and the local management as well as other local organizations. Also local governmental institutions like the Municipalities of Tana and Karasjok, the Sámi parliament and the County Council were negative towards the process and the result from the negotiations. Especially the final part of the process met a lot of criticism. The final parts of the agreement were agreed only between the governmental representatives and did not receive the approval from the local management. The parliaments in Norway and Finland still approved the agreement in the spring 2017. 

In the new agreement the management has aimed on reducing the harvest rate by 1/3, and this would probably be sufficient to reestablish all the stock at their management target in 1-2 salmon generation. The cut back in actual fishing time has for some fishermen become way more severe than that. Some net fishermen have experienced a cut back up to more than 80 % of fishing time when we consider that these fishermen earlier were fishing with two nets each and may currently only fish with one net. The net fishing of salmon is an important part of a lifestyle for many inhabitants in the Tana wally on both sides of the border, and the severe cutbacks for the local fishermen has met a lot of criticism.

Another group that had to reduce their fishing, was the tourist anglers. On the Finnish side of the border, a major tourist fishing industry is established. Many families get their income from anglers that visit their camping grounds and rent their boats in the summer time. The numbers of visitors raised after the roads were built to the Tana valley in the 1960-ties, with e.g. 7000 anglers in the early 1980-ties. After the year 2000 the number of visitors fishing on the common border stretch has been around 7000 - 8000 most years, and these anglers have spent 30 - 40 000 fishing days on the common border of Tana river each year. A major part of the new agreement was to reduce the number of fishing days for tourist anglers. By setting a “roof” of 22 000 fishing days, the aim has been to reduce the harvest rate by on third and give more possibilities for local rod angler to enter their home river without standing in line together with the visitor anglers. 

In the new agreement, a new group of rightsholders has been approved. One principle has earlier been absolute when it comes to fishing rights at both side on the Tana river: You must live in the valley to use your fishing right. In the new agreement also rightsholders that live outside the river valley are recognized as rightsholders at the Finnish side. The fishing rights on Finnish side is dependent of properties. When the persons owning these properties don´t live in the valley, they have also given up on using their rights. In the new agreement these rights are however recognized, and these rightsholders may buy a limited number of fishing days from the tourist quota for a symbolic amount of money. They may own their own boat, and on their special days, they may fish all 24 hours. 

The approval of the new group of rightsholders has been a hot topic for locals at both Finnish and Norwegian side. Never before have persons living outside the valley had these rights, and the locals have argued that this is a break in the traditions. The biggest issue has been of principle character, but this new rule has also made it harder for the tourist business, which already has experienced tough cut backs. One third of the tourist quota is only for this new group, often called the cabin owners.     

John Nystad
Deputy mayor of Kárášjohka gielda/Karasjok municipality
Finnmark, Norway

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