Lena Viltok lives in Jokkmokk and is from a Sámi family who works with duodji (Sámi handicraft), reindeer herding but also fishing as a living. Traditional fishing is a Sámi way of life that has existed for a long time, a way to get food and also for economy. “It is a family business where we work together. We fish in several close to mountain places, depending on where our reindeer are at the moment.”
Small boats and fishing with nets are being used. They fish for their own needs, for food to the family, for sale and processing as a part of the traditional Sámi food culture.
Arctic fishing means that the fish is kept cold naturally and that it is not necessary to have a fridge nearby. And when fishing arctic char you are depending on the cold water.
Sámi way of living is naturally sustainable. “The traditional knowledge is we don’t take more than we need because we are coming back next coming years. We need land and water also for the future. Our ancestors and elders didn’t overuse the lands and that’s not what we do either. Coming generations also need food.”
They are not staying for long fishing in each lake since they follow the reindeer. In that way they also look after the fish stocks, by fishing in different lakes.
The traditional Sámi fishing is not that common today as it was before, when Lena grew up. But today the awareness is higher about locally produced food and how healthy the arctic fish is. She can also see a bigger awareness about fishes that have lived a good life, so called “happy fishes”.
To process the fish, Lena is salting it. As she has been learned to do according to tradition. Usually they eat it themselves, but sometimes they also sell salted fish. And the fish can also be smoked after it has been salted. But the most of the fish Lena and her family is selling, is fresh.
The traditional way of fishing is depending on the weather and a big problem they are facing is the climate changes. In some of the lakes the salmon trout is increasing because of the water is getting warmer. “I read in an article, that the arctic char could disappear and other species can take over because of the water is getting warmer. We can already see the changes. It is more pike and perch.”
Lena and her family also fish in dammed lakes, and she says that those lakes are getting bigger than normal and have bad shores with big rocks. The lakes are also getting more sensitive for the wind, because of the sizes and their unnatural shape. It is also floating woods that are ruining the nets and the boats. “The generation before us had to get used to it and so are we. But it is a lot more work.”
It is very few young persons who fish today in Lenas area. Maybe the profit is not as big because of the increasing costs. But probably also for the hard work it entails.
A direct effect is that traditional knowledge is disappearing more and more. As in where you can fish, how to take care of the fish and so on. It is also hard to fish in areas where there is no electricity. “We need simple solutions because we are moving so much.”
As in all traditional Sámi knowledge it is learning by doing. “You have to be there. Learn the places where you can find the fish, learn the fish’s behavior, how to handle the boat, how to act in different weather and so on. You have to experience it. It is harder today because everything is changing. For example, the weather is unpredictable because of the climate changes. We don’t either document really because we don’t have a writing tradition within the Sámi. We tell instead.”
“We have to change how we live, and start consuming less! If we have this way of thinking: That we are coming back and should be able to use the planet in the future and for coming generations, as we have in the Sámi way of thinking, it will provide us forever. That the economic gain has to be as long as possible, not as big as possible, should be of highest importance for us all!”