Nätfiske röding.
The char is an important species for the Sami, primarily as an important food in the summer, but also as an additional source of income. Photo: Tor Lundberg.

Fishing - an important secondary trade

Fishing has always been an important source of income for many Sami. Some Sami use fishing as their primary source of income, and for many reindeer herding Sami, fishing has been their salvation during years when grazing is poor.

Fishing for the household
During the summer months, when many of the reindeer herders are living in isolated dwellings in the mountains, their food consists largely of fish. Fishing to meet daily household needs is a common occurrence. In the autumn it is common to catch and freeze fish for the winter.

Salvation in poor grazing years
On many occasions in the past, income from fishing has been a salvation when the winter pasture for the reindeer has been so poor that the herd has perished. There were several bad years during the 1930s, for example, and many reindeer herders lost large proportions of their herds. Many of these began providing for themselves exclusively through fishing.

An infrastructure including fish buyers was gradually established. These used boats, aeroplanes or helicopters in order to buy fish even from the families who lived and fished in the most distant mountain lakes. This fishing trade was primarily based on catches of arctic char and whitefish.

Cash fishing of this type was most common during the 1970s, when around 85% of the total number of employed fishermen in the country's five most northerly municipalities comprised Sami fishing in the upper reaches of Luleälven river system.

Set aside waters
The claims of the reindeer herding Sami to fishing waters have resulted in certain selected fishing waters not being available to the general public. Fishing rights in these lakes have been linked with membership of a sameby. This has given rise to envy and conflicts between Sami reindeer herders and the Swedish population, but also with Sami not involved in reindeer husbandry.

In autumn 1993, however, general access was granted to small game hunting and fishing with handheld equipment on government land above the limit of cultivation, despite considerable resistance from Sami and nature conservation organisations. This meant that the number of waters specially set aside for the Sami decreased from around 15-20% to around 5% of the total number of fishing waters.

Fishing still important
These days the importance of pure cash fishing has declined, and there are now hardly any Sami in Sweden who live solely from fishing.

However, the importance of fishing as an additional source of income still plays a significant role. Small-scale fishing to meet household needs during the summer and autumn is very important for many Sami, whether or not they are involved in reindeer herding.


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