Fish Science at the Royal Academy of Turku


The first doctoral dissertations in the field of fisheries in Finland were carried out at the Royal Academy of Turku. Even there, fisheries were not very popular, and only ten writings or dissertations on fish were produced. The first of these, “De regia piscatura comoensi,” was published in 1751 when F.R. Brander defended it under the supervision of Professor C.F. Mennander on the subject of the royal fishery of Kokemäki.

In the same year, another dissertation related to fish was published, although it was more religious than biological. Nic. Malm defended his dissertation on the principles of Ichtyo-Theologiae Linae, or fish theology, under the guidance of Mennander. It attempted to justify religious beliefs through natural science, particularly based on the structure and habits of fish. The work also mentioned Chinese fish farming, which was not well-known in Europe at the time.

The next fish-related research was conducted by the Swedish student Johannes Enholm, who was studying at the Academy of Turku. Under the guidance of P. Kalmin, he wrote about the customary fishing practices of the East Gotland archipelago inhabitants in the Baltic Sea in his dissertation titled “Enfalliga anmärkningar om Öst-Giotha skäreboars öfliga fiskesätt i Östersjön” (1753-1754). Kalm was also involved in Jak. Stenius’s dissertation in 1769, titled “Om bästä sättet at anlägga forsbyggnader” (On the best way to construct rapids structures), which included a section on building salmon dams. So, this dissertation was not solely about fish.

In 1757, G. Lindbland, under the guidance of P. Kalm, defended his dissertation on “De Caussis diminutionis piscium,” or the causes of fish decline. In this concise, nine-page work, the reasons for the decline were attributed to oversized and dense nets. Even the fishing of spawning fish was criticized in a unique manner, as the dissertation pondered whether spawning fish could be used for food at all and whether the meat of spawning fish might be unhealthy.

Concerns about the sufficiency of fish for everyone were already present at that time. Fish stocking was not common at the time, and fish farming became more widespread in the following century, so the only solution proposed was to enact fishing bans.

Carlus Nic. Hellenius wrote his dissertation in 1769, under the guidance of P.A. Gaddin, on the harmful insects to fishing, titled “Insecta, piscatoribus in maritimis finlandiae oris, noxia.” In this eight-page dissertation, he described how the larvae and caddisflies spoiled fishing gear and the fish within them. Notably, caddisflies and larvae were considered insects at the time.

The dissertations at the Academy of Turku did not address questions about fish species but instead focused on increasing the benefits obtained from fish. The mapping of Finnish fish species began with P.A. Gadd, who wrote a four-part series titled “Försök til ichtyologia fennica” (Attempts at Finnish Ichthyology) published in the “Tidnigar utg. Af et sällskap i Åbo” journal between 1771 and 1771. He introduced 50 species, listing their names in Latin, Swedish, and Finnish. In the species list, he used the latest edition of Linnaeus’s “Fauna Suecica” from 1761. This is the first list of Finnish fish species ever published, although it is quite incomplete, it deserves to be mentioned as the first of its kind.

The most well-known dissertation from the time of the Academy of Turku is the one written by Carl Robert Gjersin, titled “Oeconomisk afhandling om orsaker til cunå krono lax och sik fisket förmindking, som ock de hjelpmedel som deremot kunna vidtagas” (Economic Treatise on the Causes of the Decrease in the Crown Fisheries of Salmon and Whitefish in Kokemäenjoki River, and the Measures that can be taken against it). This dissertation was defended by Isaac Arenander in 1771. At that time, it was not uncommon for a professor at the academy or another scholar to write a research paper, and someone else to defend it. Paper was expensive, and this allowed professors to publish their research at someone else’s expense. Two translations of this dissertation into Finnish have been made.

The interest in Carl Robert Gjersin’s writing can be explained by the fact that it mentions artificial fertilization in Finland for the first time and the introduction of offspring into the river through it. This information was based on a publication by Cliditsch in 1764, in which he described experiments with the roe of German trout.

The era of the 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 fisheries literature in Finland. There were few natural science researchers, and their limited interest was primarily focused on botany.

Turku was almost entirely destroyed by a fire on September 4-5, 1827. The Academy of Turku, along with its books, was also destroyed, except for those works that happened to be on loan outside the city. This event also led to the loss of nearly all of Finland’s medieval literary sources. Only about 300 surviving medieval Finnish sources are known. Most of the dissertations on fisheries conducted at the academy were destroyed, and the surviving ones have become rare collectibles, not only due to their age.