Lofoten’s history is a story about fish. The population has harvested resources from the sea all year round, while many have also run small farms. But it is the seasonal fishery for skrei that has had the greatest impact on life here along the coast.
Nature is designed so that every year from January to April, large quantities of cod (Northeast Arctic cod) come from the north to the waters around Lofoten to spawn.
In Lofoten we have found traces of Stone Age people who’s lives depended on fishing more than 6,000 years ago. Archaeological finds show that they used fishing weights and fish hooks made of bones and horns. Natural resources also laid the foundation for one of Northern Norway’s largest and most powerful chieftain’s seats in the Viking Age.
The most important fish product from Lofoten is stockfish. In the archipelago, the conditions are perfect for the natural drying of fish of the world’s best quality. Already around the year 1100, the catch and production of stockfish was so great that it gave rise to the emergence of Vágar – the first city formation in Northern Norway during the Middle Ages.
The spawning fish came in such large quantities that it was more than abundant for the population of Lofoten. Therefore, visiting fishermen from all over Northern Norway wanted to participate in the Lofoten fisheries. They had to sail and row over great distances in open boats, often using the traditional Nordland boats. There could be as many as 30,000 men who came during the fishing season. In the coastal villages they rented fishermen’s cabins for housing, and sold their catch. The rorbu tradition is at least 1000 years old.
The fishermen’s cabins were rented out by local squires. They were landowners, and had the exclusive right to trade and buy and dried fish. The stockfish was transported to traders in Bergen, before it was sold on to Europe. Stockfish has been an important export commodity that has generated substantial revenues for Norway. Through the stockfish trade, the fishing villages had economic and cultural contact with the wider world.
The distinctive nature and vibrant culture of Lofoten has attracted many artists. Over the past 150 years, Lofoten has been portrayed through many different artistic expressions.
The fish is still important in Lofoten today. Catch methods, production and turnover have changed, but the main product is the same: cod and stockfish.