Skip to main content

Community based monitoring for Fennoscandia

April 14, 2021


Nina Hokkala


This policy paper proposes a new Community Based Monitoring (CBM) project for the Arctic Council working group, Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF). This project would focus on monitoring and protecting migratory fish species in the Fennoscandian Arctic rivers. Migratory fish face physical obstacles like hydropower plant structures when trying to migrate to their spawning grounds. Additionally, changes in their natural habitat driven by climate change obstruct their reproductive processes, growth, and distribution. When combined, these contemporary changes and obstacles can have a serious effect on the survival of the species.

Migratory fish like salmon are key species that support healthy living and functioning society in the Arctic. Healthy fish populations and reasonable fishing quotas provide food security and sustain the traditional way of life for Indigenous peoples like the Sámi. Sustainable fishing also supports non-Indigenous people and society by enabling fishing tourism and fishing industry in the region and other places as well, as the fish migrate great distances. Of course, healthy populations sustain healthy freshwater and ocean ecosystems as well. 

Because the fish are so important for human societies and nature’s ecosystem, it is important to monitor the survival and current state of these migratory fish. Climate change and other changes and obstacles are putting pressure on these species. As we still have gaps in our knowledge when trying to assess changes in ecosystem functions and consequent effects, we will need effective and continuing monitoring to understand the changes the Arctic is going through (Lento et al, 2019, p. 80). In order to reach that goal, it is highly beneficial to combine western science-based methods with Indigenous traditional knowledge. 


Healthy fish populations in Fennoscandian rivers are important for Sámi, who are Europe’s only Indigenous people. Fishes in rivers are a source of food and therefore provide food security, but they are also vital part of Sámi traditions and culture. In addition to Sámi people, fish are also important for non-Indigenous people of the Arctic and for fishing tourism, which is a major tourist attraction in Fennoscandian countries. Many Arctic fish species are migratory, and migrations can be within freshwater habitats or between fresh- and saltwater habitats (Lento et al, 2019, p. 73). Traditionally important species for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people include Salmonidae species like salmon and trout. Different factors put pressure on fish populations and migration routes that the fish depend on to migrate and spawn. These factors include but are not limited to climate change driven changes in habitat, overfishing, mining, and hydropower infrastructure. Sámi are interconnected with these factors and changes, as for example in Sweden 80% of large-scale hydroelectric power generation is in Sápmi (Stockholm Environmental Institute, 2020). 

Indigenous traditional knowledge holds great possibilities for precautionary approach to protect wildlife. Traditional knowledge could be described as a more holistic and comprehensive approach than western science. In order to understand multiple linkages between contemporary issues and to support ecosystem approaches for the monitoring of certain species, traditional knowledge is needed. The Ottawa Traditional Knowledge Principles were introduced to the Arctic Council by the Permanent Participants in 2014. Other entities outside of the Arctic Council, like Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), also recognize the importance of traditional knowledge in adaptive strategies and resilience against climate change (Ottawa Traditional Knowledge Principles, 2015; IPCC 2019).

As an example, River Neiden (Näätämöjoki in Finnish, Njeävdám in Sámi) and River Tana (Teno in Finnish, Deatnu in Sami) are important rivers between Finland and Norway that are important both for Sámi and for non-Indigenous fishing. River Neiden represents a positive example where communities have used holistic perspective and traditional knowledge to guide efforts to restore the salmon population (Huitric, Peterson and Rocha, 2016, p. 102). River Tana (Teno in Finnish, Deatnu in Sámi) is an example where government representatives failed to consult the Indigenous population about restricting the fishing, thereby increasing pressure on Indigenous communities (Barret, 2017).

This is why this policy paper proposes to create a Community Based Monitoring project that would be based on Indigenous traditional knowledge accompanied by western science, with the aim of protecting migratory fish. In order to make sure that Indigenous culture and way of life is respected, Sámi people should be involved in this project every step of the way. 

Policy recommendation

CAFF is one of the six Working Groups of the Arctic Council that focuses on protecting the biodiversity of the Arctic. According to their website, “CAFF’s mandate is to address the conservation of Arctic biodiversity, and to communicate its findings to the governments and residents of the Arctic, helping to promote practices which ensure the sustainability of the Arctic’s living resources. It does so through various monitoring, assessment and expert group activities” (CAFF, 2020a). The Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP) is a CAFF monitoring program that brings together scientists, conservationists, government representatives and Indigenous organizations to monitor the Arctic habitats and ecosystems in order to develop conservation efforts and policies to manage the changing Arctic. There are four different Arctic Biodiversity Monitoring Plans—marine, freshwater, coastal and terrestrial, to guide the efforts for ecosystem-based effective conservation and mitigation (CAFF, 2020b). 

This policy paper is suggesting a new Community Based Monitoring project under CBMP, that would focus on monitoring and protecting migratory fish species in the Fennoscandian Arctic rivers. This project would complement, enhance, and support other existing Arctic Council and CAFF initiatives, like the Salmon and People Project.

The project would start by mapping the traditional Indigenous knowledge that is held by the community about the river ecosystem, with emphasis on the migratory fish. The ecosystem-based approach is needed because Indigenous knowledge is based on holistic ecosystem approach. This phase will identify the key aspects that should be monitored in the next phase. This should include supporting and enabling the continuation of traditional knowledge, for example by engaging youth in Indigenous practices. Indigenous knowledge is transferred from generation to generation, and this natural way of passing the information will benefit both the project and the cultural tradition of Sámi. 

The second part of the project would be creating a community-based monitoring project. The factors that need to be monitored should be based on factors that traditional knowledge holders have identified as important. In this project, the monitoring work should be done by local stakeholders but in a way that supports their community and way of life. How the monitoring is done should be decided together with the community and not forced upon them. This way the monitoring work could also benefit the community and not alienate them from their culture. For example, verbal assessments in Indigenous languages by video could be natural way of passing the knowledge, and then translated and transcribed for the use of the project. The last phase of the project would be creating an environmental protection plan and policy according to the findings in the first phases. As the monitoring work will possibly take years to accomplish, the protection plan could be developed as soon as possible and then revisited and edited in few years’ cycles. This protection plan could be used to complement, enhance, and support other existing Arctic Council and CAFF initiatives, and would bring an important perspective to traditionally western standpoint of these other initiatives. 

Barriers to implementation

Combining traditional knowledge with western science is the first barrier to overcome, as it is hard to fit traditional knowledge to western standards. Therefore, this policy is proposing that traditional knowledge should be accompanied by western science, and not the other way around. This is why the frame of the project should be decided together with the community and not forced upon them. This flexibility enables the project framework to be applied also to knowledge systems other than Sámi. On the other hand, flexibility will represent challenges to the western science perspective, as the data should be comparable between regions. (Huntington, 2008, p. 2)

Sámi people are one of the most studied people in the world, and therefore it is hugely important that Sámi will benefit from this policy and not only be burdened by it. The proposed approach will require combining perspectives and overcoming ways of thinking, as western scientists need to trust Indigenous knowledge and Sámi people will need to trust that this approach will be beneficial to them. Small communities represent challenges, as the resources are limited (Huntington, 2008, p. 2).

Also, because there are existing and partially overlapping projects already in motion, the workload and responsibilities need to be clear. The Salmon and People Project is another project that focuses on valuing traditional knowledge in salmon conservation, but it should not be a barrier that one project has already taken this approach. Rather, it is a benefit that Indigenous traditional knowledge is appreciated as a key-role in multiple projects. The suggested new policy would focus on a wider perspective than only salmon. 


Indigenous knowledge has great potential to increase understanding for conserving ecosystems but unfortunately it is usually squeezed into a mold that is defined by western science, and therefore stripped of potentially valuable parts. There are multiple projects and initiatives concentrating on freshwater conservation, but with this project Indigenous knowledge can be taken more into consideration when making decisions about environmental protection in the region. Different projects don’t exclude each other; they enhance each other and make sure that Indigenous knowledge gets the role it deserves, which is not only accompanying western science, but standing on its side with its own two feet. 


Barret, M. (2017). Northern Norwegian islands in moratorium over fishing rights. Retrieved from

Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (2020a). About CAFF. Retrieved from

ibid (2020b). About the CBMP. Retrieved from

Huitric, M., G. Peterson and J. C. Rocha. (2016). What factors build or erode resilience in the Arctic? In Arctic Resilience Report. M. Carson and G. Peterson (eds). Stockholm Environment Institute and Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm. 

Huntington, H. (2008). A Strategy for Facilitating and Promoting Community-Based Monitoring Approaches in Arctic Biodiversity Monitoring. Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna, CBMP Report No. 13, CAFF International Secretariat, Akureyri, Iceland.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2019). Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. Retrieved from

Lento, J., W. Goedkoop, J. Culp, K.S. Christoffersen, Kári Fannar Lárusson, E. Fefilova, G. Guðbergsson, P. Liljaniemi, J.S. Ólafsson, S. Sandøy, C. Zimmerman, T. Christensen, P. Chambers, J. Heino, S. Hellsten, M. Kahlert, F. Keck, S. Laske, D. Chun Pong Lau, I. Lavoie, B. Levenstein, H. Mariash, K. Rühland, E. Saulnier- Talbot, A.K. Schartau, and M. Svenning. (2019). State of the Arctic Freshwater Biodiversity. Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna International Secretariat, Akureyri, Iceland. 

Ottawa Traditional Knowledge Principles. (2015).

Stockholm Environmental Institute (2020), Sámi lands and hydroelectric power in Sweden – what’s the potential to redress harm and injustice? Retrieved from