While both rivers Näätämö and Ponoi remain in a relatively pristine condition, weather change, past and present industrial land and water uses possess emerging threats to Indigenous and local communities, Atlantic Salmon and fisheries.
Snowchange Cooperative together with Eastern Sámi and other partners releases the 2013-2014 Collaborative Management Report for Ponoi and Näätämö rivers. It represents the furthest-reaching attempt to develop collaborative mechanisms for river catchment areas and also is the first of its kind in Finland or in the European part of Russia. The report is a part of the efforts that began in 2011 to address climate impacts to Indigenous watersheds, as is a part of the Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Initiative – IPCCA. Main funders of the 2013 work included Nordic Council of Ministers, United Nations University – Traditional Knowledge Initiative and the United Association of Finland.Combining Indigenous Sámi and local knowledge, spanning months of fieldwork, several community and international workshops, the report provides critical new evidence of how these rivers are changing and more importantly, what can be done about them. Key findings have been presented in peer-reviewed science publications, international summits and conferences.
A review dialogue between traditional knowledge and science during the project activities, both international Indigenous knowledge holders from Canada, Russia, USA and Australia as well as scientists visited the watershed and assessed the methods and best practices. Stockholm Resilience Center reviewed the process in January 2014. They suggest an approach building on this co-management model should be adopted immediately by the responsible authorities.
For Ponoi, some of the key findings include:
- Climate change continues to play a role, both in the historically low water levels of 2013 and in the observations regarding warmer winters.
- Population diminishes in the wilderness villages of the Kola Peninsula, as there are no jobs available. This opens the territories for both safari-style harvest and natural resources extraction.
- Local rights to fish should be urgently reviewed and reformed.
- Villages have been forcefully removed in the past and the local people are afraid it will happen again.
- The Soviet coastal fishing territories of the collective farms contained traces of pre-Soviet land use patterns.
- Impact to salmon and their roe continues from the jet streams of the tourist company motorboats. Noise is also observed to cause changes and the local populations view catch-and-release practices critically.
- The settlement pattern of Kanevka portrays a ”pre”-colonial arrival of the Komi from the modern-day Komi Republic, indicating a great shift from the siida-controlled Sámi territories into large-scale herding already prior to Soviet terror.
- There are several unmapped Sámi sacred sites in the Ponoi watershed.
- Historically, the collectivisation in the 1930s meant a range of local responses – some Sámi drowned their own reindeer rather than giving them away, some were sent to labour camps and remaining people accepted the new system in the face of forced measures. Memories of these events influence the modern present in the villages.
- Impact of phenols and oil in Ponoi does not emerge in the oral histories from the villages, but is evident in the water measurements. However, new issues of fertilizer dumping to river as well as possible presence of nuclear waste in the catchment areas have been reported.
- The pike from Verhne-Kamenskoe Lake is of special quality and may be considered a traditional healing remedy.
For Näätämö/Neiden, some of the key findings include:
- Sámi and local knowledge represents a viable and crucial source of information regarding the Näätämö watershed.
- Collaborative management can offer solutions and conflict resolutions to a meaningful engagement with the Sámi and other stakeholders to provide solutions to legal disputes regarding land and water rights in Finland.
- 2013 water levels were at historical low and urgent measures are needed to address the impacts of changing climate and weather.
- Past industrial land uses, such as by the state forestry company Metsähallitus, include dredging, forestry, removal of key rocks from spawning streams and imposed forest fires in the watershed. A full historical land use study should be urgently initiated to tackle these past land use forms and their impacts.
- Restoration of a pilot-spawning site that has been affected negatively on the Näätämö watershed.
- To coincide with the traditional knowledge workshops in the watershed, national scientists working with the Atlantic salmon should be invited to share layman representations of major science discoveries of the river, the fish, Barents Sea and the weather change.
- New traditional knowledge oral histories should be collected to focus on a new season of Atlantic salmon and observations regarding its health, with a new topic of a status of freshwater mussels in the Neiden watershed. Mussel is another indicator species of the health of the watershed and preliminary science results indicate a collapse of mussel populations on Neiden for unknown reasons.
- Management fisheries need to be supported that will focus on predatory fish such as burbot and northern pike that impact on salmon smolt – they are best caught during February-March-April spawning times.
- A larger conference with state bodies, scientists and non-governmental organizations to advance the collaborative management steps further in the fisheries and management policies between Finland and Norway and to influence the whole life cycle of the salmon.
The full report is available here.
For media, and further contacts: tero at Snowchange.org