Finnish Fish Literature

In Finland, the roots of fish literature reach back to the 18th century, when the first fish-related dissertations were published in Latin. The Royal Academy of Turku played a significant role as a publisher of these writings. It wasn’t until a hundred years later that fish-related topics were written about in the Finnish language, inspired by the first fishery official. Later on, there were writings that portrayed fishing not just as a means of sustenance but also as a pastime.

In the 18th century, Finnish contributions to fish literature were primarily dissertations, and the first ones were published in the Swedish part of the realm. Since fish were not a very popular subject of research in the 18th century, there were relatively few fish-related dissertations, and they were rather limited and not as scientific compared to later dissertations.

The first Finnish-authored fish-related dissertation is “Salmonum natura” by Daniel Bong, a merchant’s son from Oulu. He defended his Latin dissertation about salmon and its fishing in the lecture hall of Gustavus the Great at Uppsala University in 1730, with the approval of the Faculty of Medicine. The defense took place under the guidance of Professor Laurentius Roberg, who taught practical medicine.

The next Finnish-authored fish-related dissertation was also completed in Sweden. Under the guidance of Anders Celsius, Anders Hellant publicly defended his academic dissertation in Uppsala in 1738. It was titled “De novo in fluviis norlandiarum piscandi modo,” which translates to “A Study on a New Fishing Method in the Rivers of Norrland.” In this dissertation, Hellant presented a novel way of constructing salmon weirs. This is apparently the first academic dissertation that was also translated into Swedish, as he wanted to introduce the fishing method to those who did not understand Latin.

Hellant often observed, with amazement and pity, the labor of most of the men in the riverside areas of Norrland during the short summer, as they focused on fishing and neglected tending to their fields and other useful tasks. Weirs were labor-intensive and inefficient. Therefore, he proposed that “a weir should be built in one of the Norrland rivers in such a way that no fish, unlike now, could swim upstream without being caught in the fishing gear.” Later, this type of fishing gear, called “karsinapato” in Finnish, was indeed constructed. At the time, these were some of the largest wooden fishing devices in the world. The last one in use was the Kiviranta weir on the Tornio River, which was set up for the last time in 1973.

The Era of the Royal Academy of Turku

The first fish-related dissertations produced in Finland were at the Royal Academy of Turku. Even there, fishery was not a highly favored subject, and writings or dissertations about fish were rare, totaling only ten. The first one, “De regia piscatura comoensi,” was published in 1751. In it, F. R. Brander defended his work on the royal fishing in Kokemäki under the guidance of Professor C. F. Mennander.

Another fish-related dissertation from 1751 is more of a theological nature than a biological one. Under Mennander’s guidance, Nic. Malm defended his dissertation titled “Ichtyo-Theologiae Linae,” which outlines the fundamentals of fish theology. This work attempted to justify religious views with the help of natural science, especially based on the anatomy and habits of fish. It also mentions Chinese fish farming.

The next study on fish was conducted by the Swedish student Johannes Enholm, who was studying at the Royal Academy of Turku under P. Kalm. He wrote a two-part work titled “Enfalliga anmärkningar on Öst-Giotha skäreboars öfliga fiskesätt i Östersjön,” with the first part published in 1753 and the second in the following year. It was a study based on the author’s observations of the common fishing methods of the inhabitants of the archipelago of East Gothia in the Baltic Sea.

In 1757, G. Lindbland defended his dissertation on the causes of the diminishing fish population under the guidance of P. Kalm. In this short nine-page work, he explored reasons such as the use of oversized and closely spaced fishing nets. Even fish spawning came under scrutiny, albeit in a peculiar way, as the dissertation pondered whether spawning fish could be used as food at all and whether the meat of spawning fish was unhealthy.

Concerns about the adequacy of fish for everyone were already present at that time. Fish stocking was not common then, and fish farming became more widespread in the following century, so the proposed solution was restrictions.

Another fish-related dissertation was defended under the guidance of P. A. Gadd in 1769, by Carolus Nic. Hellenius. In his eight-page dissertation titled “Insecta, piscatoribus in maritimis finlandiae oris, noxia,” Hellenius discussed the harmful insects to fishing in the Finnish maritime areas. He described how midges and caddisflies spoiled fishing gear and the fish caught in them.

The dissertations from the Royal Academy of Turku did not address questions about fish species and did not aim to identify our fish species. Instead, they focused on increasing the benefits derived from fish. The documentation of Finnish fish species began with P. A. Gadd’s four-part article series “Försök til ichtyologia fennica” published in Tidnigar utg. Af et sällskap i Åbo from 1771 to 1773. He introduced 50 species, listing their names in both Latin, Swedish, and Finnish. He used the latest edition of Linnaeus’ “Fauna Suecica” for the species names. This was the first species list of Finnish fish published in Finland.

One of the most famous dissertations from the Royal Academy of Turku is the work of Carl Robert Gjers, titled “Oeconomisk afhandling om orsaker til cunå krono lax och sik fisket förmindking, som ock de hjelpmedel som deremot kunna vidtagas” or “An Economic Treatise on the Causes of the Decrease in the Crown Fisheries of Salmon and Whitefish in the Kokemäenjoki River and the Measures that Can Be Taken to Counteract It.” Isaac Arenander defended this dissertation in 1771. During that time, it was not uncommon for a professor or another scholar to write a study and have someone else defend it. Paper was expensive, and this was a way for professors to publish their research at someone else’s expense. There have been two Finnish translations of this dissertation.

The era of the Royal Academy of Turku came to an end in 1809 when it became the Imperial Alexander University. The first half of the 19th century was generally a quiet time for fish literature in Finland. There weren’t many natural science researchers, and the few who existed were primarily focused on botany.

The Introduction of Fisheries Administration in Finland

A significant change in Finnish fisheries occurred in 1860 when Finland appointed its first fisheries administration official. The regulation was issued on January 16, 1861, and Henrik Johan Holmberg was appointed to the position. During his tenure, the first Finnish-language fisheries guides were published. In fact, they were released before Holmberg’s appointment, but he played a crucial role. In 1858, “Käytännöllinen oswiitto lohi-sukuisten kalain kaswattamisesta” (Practical Guide to Raising Salmonid Fish) and “Kuinka joet ja järvet Suomessa saadaan kaloja runsaasti kasvamaan” (How to Increase Fish Abundance in Finnish Rivers and Lakes) were published. These guides covered fish farming, which was gaining traction as a means of managing fish populations in waters and other methods to enhance fish production. The modern era of fish research, particularly regarding species inventory, can be considered to have started with A. J. Malmgren’s 1863 study titled “Kritisk öfversikt af Finlands Fisk-Fauna.”

Fishing for Recreation

In Finland, fishing was not initially considered a leisure or recreational activity in the first half of the 19th century. Consequently, literature on leisure fishing was also relatively young in our country. The first fishing tourists arrived in Finland around the 1850s and set an example that fishing could be more than just a means of obtaining food. However, it took several years before this was documented in Finland. The first publication of its kind was a small booklet titled “Konsten att Meta” (The Art of Angling), published in 1882 under the pseudonym “Eräs urheiluonkija tuhansien järvien maasta” (A Sports Angler from the Land of a Thousand Lakes). The identity of the author remained a mystery for a long time, but it is highly likely that it was Onni Wetterhoff. The most significant guide for leisure anglers published in the 1800s in Finland is the book “Krokfiske som sport och yrke” (Hook Fishing as Sport and Profession), written in 1883 under the impressive pseudonym “Salmo Salar” by journalist Alex Hintze. It’s worth noting that among the old classics of fish literature, Izaak Walton’s “The Compleat Angler” was first translated into Finnish in 1974 with the title “Oivallinen onkimies” (An Excellent Angler). It was translated from the fifth edition (1676) by Kai Kaila. However, John Cotton’s part of the book has not been translated into Finnish, and to this day, no other editions have been translated.

As we entered the 20th century, the first Finnish-language books on leisure fishing were published. Among them, the most significant are A.E. Salminen’s “Urheilukalastus” (Sport Fishing) and William Wallenius’s “Urheilukalastajan käsikirja” (Sport Fisher’s Handbook). Later, a trend of publishing guidebooks that focused on specific fishing techniques or fish species emerged, and this trend appears to be popular even today.