Skip to main content

Fishing management on the Deantu

April 14, 2021


Kennedy Cameron

The Deantu (or “great river”) makes up the border between Finland and Norway and is a traditional harvesting area of the Sámi. The Sámi have historically inhabited this area on both sides of the river as both countries are part of Sápmi, the traditional land of the Sámi. Until the 17th century the Sámi had exclusive fishing rights on the Deantu (or Tana the Norwegian name for the river). In modern times the regulatory government favors tourist fisheries rather than Sámi sustenance and commercial fisheries. The result of this is that the Sámi people are losing traditional knowledge related to the harvest of salmon, including language that describes the salmon (Hansen, 2013). As Norway has signed International Labour Organization Convention (ILO Convention) 169 and has guaranteed rights for the Sámi to be able to access their culture through harvest and land management in their constitution, they are violating these rights by not allowing the Sámi to practice their culture on the Tana. The laws are already in place to prioritize Sámi harvest on the river, the Norwegian and Finnish governments just need a framework that forces them to follow those laws. A solution to this is to set a guaranteed percentage of the salmon quota that the Sámi receive to harvest and to make the Sámi an official co-manager of the river.

Fishing on the Deatnu has been co-regulated by Finland and Norway since 1873 (Kuokkanen, 2020). On both sides of the river management is broken down into two basic categories, those who have the right to fish and those who must purchase permits. In Norway, the right to fish is extended to those who own land within two kilometers of the river and produce at least 2,000 kilograms of hay in a year (Hansen, 2012). This is a direct result of assimilation practices that took place in 1888 that were meant to disconnect the Sámi from their traditional practices of migration and to encourage agriculture. The majority of the landowners on the main stem of the Deatnu are Sámi, however this still restricts non-land-owning Sámi from accessing traditional harvesting practices and is rooted in colonialism (Kuokkanen, 2020).

Fishing rights are also associated with land ownership on the Finnish side of the river. In Finland, since the 1930s, fishing rights have been given to people who own land on the banks of the river. About 2/3rds of the land is private owned while 1/3rd of it is owned by the Finnish government. Others can purchase licenses that allow them to fish (Kuokkanen, 2020).

In 2017 the Deantu Agreement which governs the river was renegotiated by these two governments, replacing an agreement that had been in place since 1989. The agreement was updated due to concerns over the decreasing number of salmon on the river. In 2017 the new agreement decreased the number of salmon harvested from the river by 30% (Anon., 2019). However, this decrease did not impact all types of fishing on the river equally. Tourist fisheries were deceased by 40%, while the types of fishing that were most common for the Sámi were cut by 80%, and Sámi who do not live in the Deantu river valley had their portion of harvest cut completely (Anon., 2019). 

Currently both the governments of Finland and Norway have obligations to ensure Sámi traditional harvest rights. Norway has signed ILO Convention 169 that states “The rights of indigenous peoples to the natural resources pertaining to their lands shall be specially safeguarded” (ILO Convention 169, 2013). In addition, Clause 17 of the Finnish constitution protects the Sámi right to practice their culture. The current practices with regards to fishing that these governments have implemented do not align with their responsibilities toward the Sámi (Saami Council, 2019).

In order to ensure that Finland and Norway fulfill their obligations to the Sámi, how salmon fishing on the Deantu is managed needs to be significantly changed. First, all restrictions that are tied to land ownership in the area should be lifted for the Sámi and the Sámi Council should take over all determinations of which Sámi have the right to harvest on the river. Second, the Sámi should be added as a co-manager of the river and should be represented in negotiations sperate from representatives of Norway and Finland. All managers should have to agree on the regulations for each year or set time period, or fishing will not take place. Part of these negotiations will be collecting the best available science and knowledge into creating an overall quota for the year based on this information, this process must include Sámi traditional ecological knowledge and create a report each year that specifies how the knowledge was obtained and used. From this quota, either 50% or the current percentage of the catch that the Sámi harvest, whichever is higher, should be allocated to the Sámi to be distributed within the community as the Sámi Council sees fit. The remaining quota should be split between the governments of Norway and Finland to be distributed within non-Sámi participants in the fishery.

This proposed policy will limit the number of fish harvested from the river to a sustainable level while increasing the participation of Sámi fishermen in traditional harvesting practices. Because the Sámi Council will oversee how the Sámi harvest their portion of the quota it will eliminate old colonial regulations that reduce the amount of Sámi who can participate in the harvest. This will also allow the Sámi to use traditional harvesting methods like gill nets, rather than spinning and other western fishing practices. The policy does rely heavily on the western idea of a fishing quota, and it does reduce the harvesting of salmon to a number. Both of these aspects of this policy are at odds with Arbediehtu, the Sámi traditional knowledge system, that says that animals are not simply resources and that the harvesting of animals should be given consideration and that humans should not just harvest indiscriminately. This policy is just a minimum of what should be done. Sámi should be able to harvest salmon on the river in traditional methods. However, this policy does not take into account the next steps of implementing Arbediehtu across the entire fishery. 

Overall, the implantation of this policy will face more barriers from non-Sámi that are impacted by this program than legal or practical barriers. It is very likely that some will lose access to the Deantu salmon fishery because of this policy and that will cause push back and tension. However, many have had access to this fishery as a result of colonial practices that limit access to people who have been fishing this river long before the counties of Norway and Finland were established. In order to put in place more equitable policies some who have benefited from the colonial policies will lose privileges. Once the policy gets past this hurdle it is very possible to implement. Quotas can be set for this river, and Indigenous people can be co-managers for fisheries. The political will just has to be there. 

The governments of Norway and Finland will be closer to fulfilling their obligations to the Sámi under various clauses in their respective constitutions because of this policy change. This policy will renew Sámi access to traditional fishing practices on the Deantu and allow for non-land-owning Sámi to access these practices. It will also place more power in the hands of the Sámi as co-managers for this river, moving toward the Sámi idea of shared rule of Sápmi. 


Anon. “Status of the Tana/Teno River salmon populations in 2019.” Report from the Tana Monitoring and Research Group (2019)

Hansen, Håvald. “Fishing Traditions on the Deatnu (Tana) River.” RCC Perspectives, no. 4 (2012): 22–27. JSTOR, Accessed 17 Dec. 2020.

International Labour Organization. “Understanding the Indigenous and Tribal People Convention, 1989 (No. 169)”. Handbook for ILO Tripartite Constituents / International Labour standards Department (2013).

Kuokkanen, R. “The Deatnu Agreement: A Contemporary Wall of Settler Colonialism.” Settler Colonial Studies 10.4 (2020): 508-28.

Saami Council, “Submission of the Saami Council for the preparation and adoption of the List of Issues to Reporting (LoIPR) for Finland by the Human Rights Committee in March 2019, during its 125th Session” (2019)