The fishermen from Lofoten
Those who made the archipelago accessible
Among all great Norwegian women and men we like to identify ourselves with, there is one above others – the fisherman of Lofoten. Thanks to him and his families, it is easy to travel among these beautiful islands and explore the sceneries of the Northern part of Norway.
No one knows when it really started, but for more than 1,000 years fishermen from all over Norway gathered during wintertime in the Lofoten Archipelago, in the Northern county of Nordland, to be part of the spectacular treasure hunt; to catch the cod, when it migrated Southwards from the Barents Sea and gathered in Lofoten to spawn.
Every January the cod travels along the coastline to make love – basically in Lofoten. And for the fisherman it was all about catching the fish before the actual love act – to secure the liver and the roe.
At sea, there was a battlefield.
From January to April (three to four long, freezing months) the fishermen said goodbye to their families, their wives and children, and went on board the, often tiny, fishing vessels that should be their home during the winter months at sea. It was adventure, crazy hard work, a battle of life and death driven by the obsession for cod – and money.
In 1100 AD, the fish trade was established between Lofoten and Europe. As the temperature in Lofoten in January to April lies just below freezing point, no salting or smoking was needed to preserve the fish. Hanging on huge stands, the wind would dry the fish while keeping the nutrients and it was easy to transport and became a huge and important export product. The cod was brought to Bergen where German traders bought it and sent it to the cities in Europe.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were about 30 000 fishermen participating, today there are merely 2 000. The income from the cod-fish has provided great wealth to Norway and has contributed considerably to establishing Norway as a nation. At times the catch in Lofoten amounted to 80 percent of the Norwegian gross income.
The career of the fisherman started early. At the age of 14, shortly after being confirmed, and with a psalm book under the pillow, he sailed out with his father, uncle and brother. Dressed in oilskins, wellies, rubber mittens, the days were never ending. At stormy seas, heavy, cold rain, through days and nights – he would be standing at the ship railing, not knowing what time of the day it was, cutting the tongue out of the fish as it was hailed on board from the dark deep. Exhausted, cold, wet, hungry and tired – he would be sleeping for a few hours, before it was back again, to the frontline. Day out, day in.
There was uncertainty and fear – would the Fisherman survive? Would he come back to his wife and children who were waiting at home while fearing the worst, praying to God to bring him home alive and in one piece? Mothers and wives were left back home without seeing their husbands and sons for months, living in constant fear that the ship would perish in the next storm while keeping the spirit high and have faith.
Most of the times they did return, sometimes they did not.
So, if it hadn’t been for the fish, the cod, there would have been no fisherman, and without the fisherman there would have been no settlements on the islands, and without no settlements, it would not have been possible for us to travel these shores today. The fishermen and their families settled almost everywhere – from the big islands to the smallest, tiniest piece of land where it was hard to believe it actually could be possible to build a house and have a life.
Thanks to the fisherman and his daring efforts, risking his life in the quest for food, and his ability to live there, there are houses, shops, paths, restaurants, accommodation across the islands, North and South paths and tracks up and around the mountains peaks. The very same infrastructure that we use on our adventure tours in Lofoten.
Today the number of fishermen counts around 2000. The cod is caught by big fishing trawlers. In 1900 the fisherman provided each approximately 369 fish per year, today he/she catches around 8 000.
The spectacular islands and the surrounding sea attract more than one million tourists a year enjoying wildlife at sea and land as well as enjoying activities like mountaineering and rock climbing, surfing, cycling and skiing.
FACTS LOFOTEN ARCHIPELAGO:
- Lofoten is an archipelago in the county of Nordland, Norway, known for an amazing scenery with dramatic mountains and peaks, open sea and sheltered bays, beaches and virgin nature. Despite being situated within the Arctic Circle, Lofoten experiences one of the world's largest temperature rise anomalies due to its high latitude
- Coordinates 68°20′N 14°40′E
- Archipelago: Lofoten archipelago
- Major islands: Austvågøy, Vestvågøy, Flakstadøy, Moskenesøy, Værøy, Røst
- Area: 1,227 km2
- Population: 24 500