Kuusamo is a small city in the north of Finland with a population of approximately 18 thousand people. The town is less than 30 km from the Russian border and is surrounded by dozens of lakes the local cuisine of the region is based on a small freshwater whitefish in the family of the Salmoidae called Muuiku (vendace or Europiean Cisco).
A Cooperative of 8 families fish this small delicacy via traditional methods that have remained unchanged for hundreds of years. The most famous lake in the region is lake Kitka. There are also many other lakes surrounding it which are rich in fish. These fertile fishing grounds extend for several hundred kilometers.
Every morning at 6am the fishermen travel by snow mobile to one of the frozen lakes. They drag a sled with them containing a large net approximately 16 meters high x 200 meters wide, known locally as the seine. The fisherman use a chainsaw to cut a hole in the ice where they drop their seine. They then cut another hole in the ice several hundred meters away and use to underwater sledges to drag the seine between the cuts in the ice. The process of dragging the Seine takes approximately four hours and is accomplished with a small custom made motorized system. As the net is dragged between the holes it collects the Muuiku fish. As the net approaches, the second cut in the ice the fisherman begin to close the net and switch to manually pulling it up while holding between 150 and 300 kilograms of Muuiku. The Muuiku is then transported via snowmobile to Sossonniemi; a nearby fishing village harbor where the fish are sorted and cleaned by hand before being packed for transport. The fish will be sold for 4 Euro a Kg to wholesalers and then at the fish market between 18 to 22 Euro per kg.
Fishing Muuiku has been a traditional practice in Finland for many hundreds of years. Pekka Kajava and Jari Pitkänen have been fishing since they were small children in the tradition of almost all men in their family. “Until a few years ago it was common for kids to come home and should work cleaning the fish before playing soccer or volley ball” says Tuomo Ollila, a retired fisherman and a seine weaver. “I had to stop as I could not inhale more nylon from the nets.” Tuomo, is now involved more in tourism, and has been responsible for the only technological advancement in the Muuiku business since the use of nylon nets. The trailer that contains the seine now has an engine that allows the fisherman to pull the seine from the cold water without manual labor. This advancement has substantially improved the life of the fisherman. During the frigid winter months, there will be many days where the fisherman are working out on the exposed ice in temperatures below 30C.
Importantly, the Kuusamo fishing industry is sustainable at current catch volumes. The fisherman can count on a very profitable winter season that starts in December and ends in May. Tuomo recalls times from his childhood when the ice on the lakes was much thicker and harder to cut through and when the winter snow would blanket the landscape for as long as 5 months straight. “A rise of even only one degree in the temperature of the water could change everything”.