We continue with the second part of our mini-blog series on what keeps fishers going in the Baltic. This post is by Emma Björkvik, another student of Stockholm Resilience Centre researcher Wijnand Boonstra
Small-scale archipelagic fishing in Sweden and the Baltic Sea is today an occupation that is close to extinction. The trend in fishing, just as in many other businesses, has been to grow bigger. Despite this overall trend of intensive and extensive growth, e.g. fishing with more effective gear and with bigger boats, there is still a group of fishers fishing in the archipelago of the Baltic that are relatively small-scale. What keeps these fishers fishing, and why? To find answers to these questions I took the bus from Stockholm to Västervik during a sunny week in May to meet three small-scale eel fishers. My aim was to learn more about their lives as fishers, their motivations to continue fishing and factors that had an impact of their way of fishing.
Västervik is a small town located on the coast 30 km south of Stockholm; it is the town in which I grew up, and is known for its beautiful archipelago. The archipelago in Västervik has throughout time been home to hundreds of fishers and their families and fishing has been of great importance to the local community. Today, times have changed and the archipelago is almost deserted except for a few months during the summer when summer guests move to the islands to enjoy the surroundings. As one of the fishers put it when we discussed the current role of fishers in the local community: “These days we are only a tourist attraction, people think it is picturesque watching a fisher sitting on a quayside cobble together his net.”
I meet one of the fishers in his kitchen and the other two in a small boathouse located on their landing site. At first they all seemed a bit nervous and were eager to get the interview over with; there was no time for either small talk or coffee. But once I started to ask questions I felt that both they and I became more relaxed and they began to share both funny anecdotes and serious thoughts about being a fisher. For all of the three fishers fishing was like their second nature, the tradition of fishing had existed for generations in their families and they had started to fish as soon as they could walk.
Burning interest for fish!
The two main factors affecting which fish they choose to catch are the price of the fish and availability of fish. One of the fisher described that: “during the eighties 80% of my income came from cod and 20% from eel, today it is the eel that stands for the same 80%”. In the 1980s when the cod availability was high he chose to fish cod, since he could catch a lot and make a profit. Today when the availability of cod is low he depends on the eel which currently gives the highest pay-off.
When I started to ask questions about the future for small-scale archipelagic fishers in Västervik all the fishers felt very dejected. They described how the growing seal and cormorant populations are eating a substantial amount of the fish from their nets, fluctuating catches that implies a very insecure income, and how regulations are unreliable. I asked what they would say to their child or grandchild who would want to become a fisher. Two of the fishers would dissuade the child, one of them said: “There are so many easier ways to make a living today”. The last fisher was a bit more positive and replied: “Well, if he/she wants to do it, he/she should do it, but he/she must have a burning interest for fish”. ‘A burning interest for fish’, perhaps it is that which is keeping these fishers going…