Lofoten fishing

Every year around February, the spawning-ready cod, also known as skrei, moves into the Vestfjorden on the inside of Lofoten to spawn. This marks the beginning of Lofoten fishing.

The fishing takes place every year from February to April and includes participants from all over the country. Henningsvær’s heyday began at the beginning of the 19th century when the foreign market for fish became larger than the Norwegian one. Due to the high demand, the state facilitated the development of infrastructure along the coast. Fishing began to become commercial in earnest, and Henningsvær grew.

Lofoten fishing in Henningsvær and at Henningsvær Rorbuer

In the last half of the 19th century, Henningsvær developed into one of the most important fishing villages in Norway, due to increasing demand and the commercialization of fishing. The best Lofoten fishing ever took place in 1947. A total of 147,000 tonnes of skrei were then fished. This year there were approx. 10,000 fishermen in the small fishing village of Henningsvær.

Today, the Rorbuankelt Henningsvær Rorbuer consists of the original buildings that gave these fishermen a place to live. The buildings on the facility were used for rowing houses, a shop, egg houses, a saltery, a fish drying plant, a steaming plant and a fish reception. Countless fishermen have both lived and worked here.

For over 1,000 years, the Lofoten fishery has been the most important seasonal fishery in Northern Norway. As early as the Viking Age, there was a law that ensured the local chieftains a share of the fishermen's catch. Already at that time, the fish was dried in the wind and brought south for sale.

Fank A. Jenssen, 1984
Author and Journalist

The fish's export value and Lofoten's fame

But one cannot speak of a significant rise in the dried fish trade until the Italian sailor Pietro Querini ran aground off Røst in 1432. Querini had to spend several months at Røst, and managed to become very enthusiastic about dried fish. Back in Rome, he reported to the Pope, and this proved to be a turning point for the dried fish trade. Italy has been an important market ever since.

Over the past 300 years, the Lofoten fishery has been of great importance to Norway. In 1983, the export value of fish from Lofoten was almost NOK 1 billion. About 12.5 million skrei, as this cod is called, were caught.

Today, the Lofoten fishery is one of the world’s most famous fisheries. However, Lofoten’s fame is not only due to the large amount of fish caught here every year. It is also because a number of painters, writers and the media have shown an interest in this part of the world for a long time.

Lofoten fishing rules

During the Lofoten fishing season, the sea along the Lofoten archipelago is divided into different fields, each of them reserved for a specific group of fishing vessels. Boats that fish with nets, longlines or seines have their own restricted areas.

For the juksa fishermen who use a single line with a hook, these rules do not apply. They can fish anywhere in the Lofoten Sea. The other boats must abide by the rules and stay within their limits.

There are often clashes between boats from different groups along the boundary lines between the fields. There is a coast guard that deals with such disputes. Usually the fishermen sort things out themselves, but occasionally a boat can be fined.

Picture of a fisherman preparing his fishing net - Photo: Kanstad

A stressful life

Back in 1892, as many as 32,000 fishermen participated in the Lofoten fishery. Accommodation options were scarce. The fishermen lived cramped, in small draughty huts. Many slept under their boats. It was a strenuous life full of dangers. Many lost their lives in stormy weather.

Lofoten fishing as the main income

The Lofoten fishery has always been a mainstay of the economy in Northern Norway. During the season, many fishermen come from other parts of Norway. Although the number is far from as large as it used to be, the Lofoten fishery still provides the main income for thousands of people. In 1984, almost 5,000 fishermen participated in the Lofoten fishery. During the three winter months, from the end of January to the end of April, the income for the fishermen is from NOK 30,000 to 150,000, depending on skill and luck.

In addition, several thousand people work with the fish on land. There are more than 100 fish factories in Lofoten. When the fishing is at its peak, handling all the fish can be a problem. When times are worse, they don’t have enough to do.

An atmosphere of intense treasure hunting and romance

Lofoten fishing is a fantastic sight. The boats start fishing when the signal goes off at 6 in the morning. Everyone leaves at the same time. Sometimes it’s a race to reach the fishing grounds first. The first boat has the best starting position.

Lofoten fishing brings with it an aura of intense treasure hunting and romance. Not strange. The events have a spectacular setting around them. Beautiful mountains, a majestic light and vessels of all shapes and colors. Fishermen from all over the country. Trade and life.

Lofoten has always appealed to artists. Over the years, they have come from all parts of the world to gather impressions here. No one can say how many works of art have been inspired by Lofoten fishing and the atmosphere around it. There are probably thousands.

An increasing number of tourists find their way to Lofoten, also in winter – more than 200,000 a year. But for the fishermen, Lofoten above all means hard and cold days, bad weather and a struggle for survival. Nevertheless, there is always room for a little color in the gray everyday life. An old fisherman from Svolvær had a habit of kissing the first skrei he caught. But that was the only joy he allowed himself before the struggle began.

Sources

Frank A. Jenssen, “Book on Lofoten fishing”, 1984. Forlaget Nord.

Great Norwegian Encyclopedia, “Lofoten fishing”. Retrieved 8/15/23. URL: https://snl.no/lofotfisket