Finland is a developing country when it comes to its fishing policy

Almost all of Finland’s migrant fish are threatened. At the moment the endangered fish species of Finland have no protection; they are like outlaws. For example the Finnish landlocked salmon (Salmon’s subspieces Salmo salar m. sebago only lives in inland waters) is more endangered than the Saimaa ringed seal (Pusa hispida saimensis). A study shows that only 0.04 % of the smolts survive and reach sexual maturity. This means that only one individual in 2500 smolts will spawn.

Almost all of Finland’s migrant fish are threatened. Luckily, the trout (Salmon trutta) is not yet one of them. © Mikael Kraft

Almost all of Finland’s migrant fish are threatened. Luckily, the trout (Salmon trutta) is not yet one of them. © Mikael Kraft

Additionally, the sea trout parr (Salmo trutta trutta) is critically endangered in Finland. Hydro-electric power plants previously destroyed the robust populations of the sea trout, but nowadays the main problem is fishing nets. Finland is probably the only civilised state where anybody can fish using nets. In other parts of the world fishing with nets is strongly regulated or banned completely. All the endangered species living in the inland waters of Finland, even the Saimaa ringed seal, face the same threat: fishing nets (both professional and free-time fishermen). The main problem with fishing nets is that they catch almost all the smolts, leaving no fish to spawn.

Finland is also the only nation in the world that allows fishermen to fish using massive trawls in inland waters. Finnish researchers are unanimous: our fishing policy is unsustainable. Policymakers don’t listen. Rather, they are against every positive development. In today’s world with the EU and other institutions, how is it possible that no one outside Finland is not reacting. If Finnish policymakers are this blind or spineless, maybe the EU could invoke for example the Habitats Directive (more formally known as Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora), and force Finland to alter its fishing policy. We have some successful example (the Przewalski’s horse returning to Mongolia, deforestation in Madagascar) of how pressure / help from the outside world has contributed to the preservation of species or ecosystems in developing countries. At least the EU should wake up now and prevent the local extinction of several fish species.

Further reading:
Salmi P, Auvinen H, Jurvelius J, Sipponen M (2000) Finnish lake fisheries and conservation of biodiversity: coexistence or conflict? Fisheries Management & Ecology 7: 127–138. DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2400.2000.00183.x

Auvinen H, Jurvelius J, Koskela J, Sipilä T (2005) Comparative use of vendace by humans and Saimaa ringed seal in Lake Pihlajavesi, Finland. Biological Conservation 125(3): 381–389. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2005.04.008

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Hot spots of boreal landscape

The beaver (Castor spp.) is a known ecosystem engineer that modifies its environment quite drastically. It builds a dam and raises floodwaters into surrounding forests, killing trees, and releasing organic material into riverine systems and lakes. The rising water level changes both the abiotic and biotic conditions of a wetland. Many organisms, from water lice to water birds, benefit from these changes. Beavers facilitate these species by offering both nesting and sheltering areas in the form of low bushes and trees by the water’s edge, increased aquatic plant communities for nutrition, and ice-free water areas for extended periods.

Beaver-created wetlands are cyclic ecosystems. Beavers usually inhabit a site for one to three years and then move to the nearby site, where the whole process starts again. After the beaver has left the site, the abandoned site reverts quite slowly back to the original. So the beaver’s actions endure much longer than they occupy the site, and commonly they return to former sites within 10 years.

 

Beaver-created wetlands can be seen as a biodiversity hot spots. This pic is from eastern Finland. © Mia Vehkaoja

Beaver-created wetlands can be seen as a biodiversity hot spots. This pic is from eastern Finland. © Mia Vehkaoja

The beavers’ actions can be seen as quite sharp shifts in an ecosystem, but the very nature of the changes that the beavers create tends to be rather stable. As the beavers transform the ecosystem they also enable resilience in landscapes. Beaver-created wetlands increase the heterogeneity of the landscape, and can be seen as biochemical and biodiversity hot spots. They maintain several declining species, especially in the northern Boreal Hemisphere, where eutrophic wetlands are relatively rare.
The EU has an ongoing project called the Return of Rural Wetlands. The size of the EU funding in this project in Finland is a little over a million Euros. The other million Euros come from the Finnish Government and the rest from the Finnish Wildlife Agency. The aim of the project is to create a new frame and a good start for the future nationwide program for wildlife habitat conservation, restoration and re-creation. So people are creating new wetlands using tractors and diggers, and by bringing soil and water from elsewhere.

Beavers would do the same work for free. Instead of misspending lots of money on labor, expensive machines and moving earth, we could use some part of the funding to re-introduce the European beaver (Castor fiber) to a wider area. In this way we would save money, get the same results, if not even better ones, and help our original, once extinct species to recover. In addition, Finland would achieve the obligations of EU Inland Water Directive.

The new re-introduction of the European beaver project would involve the same interest groups as the Return of Rural Wetlands project. Some of the re-introductions could be conducted on state-owned lands and some on privately owned land. There are several local landowners involved in the Return of Rural Wetlands project, so there is a good possibility that they would be interested in the same kind of project as well. Regional hunting clubs would want to be involved, as beaver-created wetlands offer improved hunting and fishing opportunities, because their habitat engineering increases the number of game and fish species. It might be easy to get regional authorities and policymakers to engage in the project, because of the EU obligations that abide them. Furthermore, the policymakers would conserve the biodiversity of Finland, and gain the respect of The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation and the public. When all these interest groups are involved in and the role of power is divided to various levels, a revolution in wetland creation is possible. When such a project succeeds in Finland, it should be possible to implement it also in other EU countries.

 

The Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) favors beaver-created wetlands, especially during breeding season. © Mia Vehkaoja

The Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) favors beaver-created wetlands, especially during breeding season. © Mia Vehkaoja

The beaver’s actions extend wider than just creating suitable wetlands for several species. Beaver-created wetlands produce high amounts of dead wood. Dead wood is a decreasing natural source and the species dependent on dead wood are under threat. There are numerous bryophyte, lichen and beetle species that rely on moist dead wood. The resilience of beaver-created wetlands is more general than specified, as its transformability reaches from wetlands into the forest.

Beavers provide also other ecosystem services to humans. They mitigate flood peaks by retaining rainwater and drought conditions by slowly releasing water. Beaver-created wetlands act as buffer zones by filtering impurities, e.g. heavy metals, thus increasing water quality. They facilitate and conserve endangered and declined species, and create interesting hiking and relaxation possibilities for humans. All in all, beaver-created wetlands are one of the key ecosystems in boreal areas to be conserved.

Aliens are among us

The EU announced a new alien species strategy just a few weeks ago. The strategy uses a three-step hierarchical approach: 1) preventing species from entering and spreading in a country, 2) early detection and eradication, and 3) long-term control and spreading prevention. What are the most efficient actions to preventing the spread and/or eradication of alien species?

 

Alien species are considered one of the greatest threats to biological diversity. Their success lies in rapid reproduction, good tolerance of different environments and a high dispersal ability. So what to do? Prevention is the key. One of the most efficient examples of a country with a very strict controlling program is Australia. The county controls everything that tries to enter through its international borders. Even the dirt on the soles of your shoes is investigated for microscopic aliens. This is no wonder as prevention is the most cost-effective method against invasive alien species. The costs caused by alien species are over 1 400 billion Euros every year.

 

When an alien species has spread, there are several methods for eradicating it. One can try to hunt down every individual or use pesticides, predators or pathogens against the alien. There are few successful examples of eradications, such as rat eradication in Tahanea Atol to save the endangered Tuamotu sandpiper Prosobonia cancellata, but most of the time the process is difficult if not completely unsuccessful. Pesticides used against plant pathogens or pest insects can seep into the soil and pollute near ecosystems as well as fresh water supplies. Predators can be used to control alien species population levels, but on the other hand finding a predator specialized in one particular species is very difficult. So the downside is that the predator will probably wipe out several other species also.

 

Are modern-day eradication strategies timely? What if we invest a lot of effort and money into eradication, and the alien species eventually spreads naturally and unaided into the ecosystem due to climate change? This has already happened in Spain, where the human-introduced ruddy duck Oxyura jamaicensis (originally from North America) threatened the rare white-headed duck Oxyura leucocephala. The Spanish government and EU first tried to exterminate the ruddy duck populations but then gave up, as it was quite clear that the species might spread naturally into the ecosystem within just a matter of years.


Alien species don’t just influence nature. They also affect the societies and economies that we live in. The pine wood nematode Bursaphelenchus xylophilus would have tremendous effects on Finnish forest industry if it were to invade Finland. The pine wood nematode is originally from North America, where local pine species have evolved a resistance to the nematode. The pine wood nematode is a real threat to Finland, as it has already spread to Portugal and the EU commission has restricted the export of Portuguese conifers. If the nematode would spread to Finland, the consequences could be devastating not only to Finnish forest industry, but to Finnish society as a whole. The total value of exports by the Finnish forest industry was 10.8 billion Euros in 2010, which is approximately 20% of the total export of Finland. In light of all the negative effects, can the aliens ever be friendly? And can we afford to be friendly in return?