To Help a Brother In Need

 “We are here to learn from your beautiful communities. We can’t survive alone. We want to learn from all of you. We are the students but we also share what we know, and together we can survive.”

The opening words of Slow Fish first-timer, Tero Mustonen, of the Snowchange Cooperative, immediately filled the Fish Community room with passion and determination.  Located in North Karelia in Finland, the Snowchange Coop was established in 2000 as a community driven, non-profit group dedicated to fighting the impacts of climate change on fishing practices by placing indigenous communities from across the Arctic at the centre of the debate.

Today the cooperative has many partners throughout the Arctic, New Zealand, and Australia and among its members we find the indigenous communities of Eastern Sámi, Chukchi, Yukaghir, Sakha, Evenk, Even, Inuit, Inuvialuit, Gwitchin and many more.  The group works with the UN and other research groups throughout the world, studying climate change and how fishing communities can combat it. Tero believes that small communities have been ignored and left out from decisions about climate change when they should be center stage.

The villages need to come together to exchange knowledge and best practices. There is also a need for gender equality in regulation talks as well.  Women are a vital part of these fishing communities and should be at the front.

Mr. Mustonen’s village has initiated multiple programs to restore ecological river habitats.  He says, “if people and waterways aren’t connected, everything is over.” Restoration is an ‘on the ground’ mechanism to help fisheries survive the changes.  This restoration builds resilience in the ecosystem against erosion and climate change.

The fishing community of North Karelia practices under ice seining primarily for vendace. In the past, the ice would arrive in November and leave in May, providing a healthy six-month fishing season. Today, it usually arrives mid-January and recedes in April, but in the worst seasons, Tero and his team can wait until February and only fish by March.

In ideal conditions, 5 cm of solid ice can withstand 500 days of rain. The indigenous people have over 120 words to describe and read the different snow and ice conditions. Most recently, they have been faced with “slush ice” that is not properly solidified. The Atlantic currents bring in warm water which creates cracks in the ice formation.  These conditions are unsafe for working and have led to Tero’s crew losing machinery and putting people’s lives in danger.

Even the elderly, who have the best knowledge of the land, say these are new waves and winds they haven’t seen before. This also applies to summer fishing between June and August. The winds no longer come softly throughout the afternoon. Instead they come all at once in the evening and into the night, causing young fish to die because they are not yet adapted to the conditions.

These issues led Tero and his wife to come to Slow Fish. Taro pled for the help of fellow fishers around the world and presented two goals for indigenous communities to achieve together and protect their endeavors.

First, indigenous peoples should be the ones leading climate change decisions, not waiting for regulations to come down the line. Second, the world needs to realize that we can’t go back. Yes, the worst climate change problems facing fishermen are predominantly human enacted, but we need to set our course and do new things, and adapt to the new conditions.

We are the net: the words have never rang so true.  Yet despite the gloom Tero’s every word was positive and his demeanor, one of pure gratitude. He mentioned, “we may be melting here [in Genova], but your group and what you are doing is superb.”  A reaffirmation of the power of a group of well-intentioned people’s ability to change the world. “The things we do today and here [at Slow Fish] when we work together is incredible. I am your brother, we may fish differently but our struggle is the same.”

by Molly Joan Renaldo



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