Focus on Fishing in Norway
12th August 2016
Situated on the Southern Coast of the Lofoten archipelago in Norway, the fishing village of Henningsvær offers a glimpse of traditional Norwegian fishing. With a population of just under 500 inhabitants the village is spread across several islets (including Heimøya and Hellandsøya) in the Vestfjord and covers an area of just 74 acres. Connected to the mainland via the Henningsvær Bridges the village has a rich history of fishing within the community of Lofoten and retains much of the period charm that many other coastal villages have lost to modernisation. The fact that the aforementioned bridges were not built until 1981 may have helped preserve the traditional architecture from being replaced by the popular preference for concrete in the 60’s and 70’s. Attractions
Today the village attracts many tourists and offers a range of activities including snorkelling and diving as well as climbing, being an ideal base for visitors drawn by Mount Vågakaillen. However, fishing remains at the heart of the community’s activities and the fishing season for the region begins in February with activity reaching a peak during the beginning of March to the end of April when visiting boats fill the harbour. During this time the village plays host to a large number of crews from the hundreds of fishing boats who fill the fish halls and landing stations. The summer sees the village swap hats to accommodate the surge of tourists keen to make the most of the long summer days before the autumn storms and the return of the winter. As with most Northerly towns in this region, there is a good chance that visitors can watch the Northern Lights from Henningsvær as the days become shorter and only a few hours of pale blue sky pass for daylight.
The community continues to support its fishing history but the village also has a great wealth of artists, handicrafts and eateries to accommodate its tourist trade.
Surrounded by the sea and in a prominent position, Henningsvær became one of the most prosperous fishing villages in Loften during the mid-nineteenth century due to the leadership of a new owner. After a period of instability, the village was purchased by Henrik Dreyer in 1842 and his leadership brought a period of development which changed the rural outcrop into a trade hub for the local fishing communities. Under his ownership the village grew to include important facilities such as an infirmary, chapel and lighthouse. The new squire is also widely acknowledged to have been one of the driving influences behind the introduction of the telegraph line in Lofoten; the first in Northern Norway.
Dreyer was a shrewd businessman and courted overseas investors, eventually selling parts of the village to accrue capital investment. However, it was such practices which also placed the future of the village at risk. The investments ended up in the hands of English owners who, when Dreyer died in 182 without an heir, tried to procure the whole of Henningsvær. This move was charged with public opinion and resulted in political posturing whereby the Nordland County Council were forced to take action. In May 183, the village was absorbed into public ownership and there followed many years of austerity as investment levels fell. The local economy, reliant upon the fisheries, declined as a result of poor stocks and prosperity would not return to the village until 1920 when bumper cod catches changed the community’s fortunes. With a return to profit, investment opportunities began to attract further prosperity and a number of new businesses opened in Lofoten. In 1922, the village was connected to mainland electricity and Henningsvær began to thrive once more.
However, the conditions around the harbour continued to prove problematic for the fishing boats as it provided very little protection against the regular autumn storms. So, in 1929, construction began on a breakwater that would take five years to complete.
Village life continued to be reliant upon its fishing trade and even the outbreak of the Second World War did not have a major impact on its activities although fewer boats were active. However, in 1941 on 4th March British forces arrived in Vestfjord undertook several strategic demolitions in the area including the destruction of a power station, oil tanks and 11 cod-liver oil factories throughout the Lofoten region. Henningsvær, one of the targets for the Lofoten Raid, endured the destruction of a cod-liver oil factory at what is known as"Englishman’s Wharf" (Engelskmannsbrygga). The raid, sanctioned by the Norwegians, was a tactical effort to restrict the accessibility of key locations to the Germans and the raid was met with severe reprisals. The worst revenge was metered out to the inhabitants of neighbouring Svolvær, but relatives of the men that had helped the British in Henningsvær were arrested and sent to Gruni; several houses were also burned to the ground.
The grim realities of war were forgotten in the years that followed and, in the 1950’s, Henningsvær enjoyed a boom as over 1000 people profited from rich fish stocks and consecutive years of record breaking catches. This was to be the peak of the village’s success story and as larger vessels began to fish the Lofoten fishery, stocks declined and changes made to the infrastructure of the fishing industry the population of the small village began to dwindle. Isolated from the mainland except by way of a twice daily ferry to Kabelvåg and Svolvær the village was cut-off from the rise of industrial change until 1983 when bridges and a permanent road link had been built to connect it to the rest of Lofoten.
By the 1990’s the number of inhabitants had dwindled until it reached their current level of around 500 which has been stable ever since.
Though still a fishing village, Henningsvær is now a popular tourist destination and enjoys a good deal of income from this prosperous industry.
Pictures inside the harbour
Local resident enjoy the sun
Great place to relax
Situated on the island of Austvågøy in Norway’s North Western Archipelago of Loften, Svolvaer is a principal port for the country’s cod fishing industry. The town depends on the sea for much of its local economy from cod liver oil processing to ancillary productions like fertiliser from fish viscera. At the height of the fishing season between January and April the town’s numbers swell from the regular population of approximately 4,500 as fishermen from farther south use the town’s port to access the fishing grounds.
As well as being an important working harbour the town embraces its links with the past and embraces the seafaring traditions upon which its prominence has been built. Overlooking the Vestfjord and surrounded by the rugged landscape of steep mountains Svolvaer is a picturesque town that offers tourists a great number of activities beside fishing and is a thriving and cultural hub of the Vagan municipality.
Svolvaer, Norse for ‘chilly fishing village’ is first mentioned in records in 1567 though there is evidence of some form of earlier but sparse settlement. It is likely that this was a result of migration from neighbouring Vagar; a town established around 800 AD on a narrow natural harbour west of Svolvaer.
Historically a small village, Svolvaer began to grow considerably in size during the 19th century through to the mid 20th century when in 1947 over 20,000 fishermen operated from the coastal town. At this time the average annual catch was 40-50 million kilos compared to the current 25-50 million.
The village’s growth was acknowledged in 1918 when it was granted town status to become its own municipality; however this was revoked in 1964 as Svolvaer was merged together with Gimsoy and Vagan. Officially, the status of township was restored in 1996 following a change in legislation.
The architecture of the town reflects the hotch-potch growth and remain a mix of traditional wooden buildings alongside modern concrete ones.
The port benefits from the shelter of the mountains to the north and west creating a micro-climate that is unique to Svolvaer within the Lofoten region. As well as creating higher daytime temperatures the position of the port creates less fog but more rain than other harbours. Access to the open sea of the Vestfjorden to the south is via a natural coastal harbour and offers anchorage depth of 9-10m to vessels up to 500’ in length. A small port offering limited repair facilities and a medium dry-dock Svolvaer operates passenger, cargo and tanker vessel traffic alongside the fishing industry as well as leisure craft. A busy working harbour, there is much to see and appreciate though the main fishing season that occurs between January and April shows the town operating at full production.
With a wealth of shops, galleries, restaurants and bars the town caters well for its second largest economy, tourism. Over 200,000 visitors pass through the small town each year enjoying activities such as whale watching tours, downhill skiing and sight-seeing around the islands. The area is a hub for the arts and has a community of established artists selling their work in local galleries as well as offering a glimpse of the cultural delights through its many museums. Svolvaer is home to the World War II museum, Lofoten Krigsminnemuseum as well as the Lofoten Artist’s House and the Stig Tobiassen gallery. Many of the visitors to the area are also artists and enjoy painting the beautiful scenery around the town making the most of the unique light offered here. One of Gunnar Berg’s (1863-93) paintings of everyday life of fisher folk hangs in the town hall of Svolvaer.
The town’s most prominent mountain, Svolværgeita, attracts a lot of climbers during the summer months all keen to jump between the two horns at its peak; the first recorded climb was in 1910.
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The city of Tromso, Norway dates back to the Ice Age and is steeped in colourful history. From Viking settlers to the Napoleonic Wars, Arctic exploration to hunting and fishing the area is rich with interesting landmarks, architecture and cultural hotspots.
Considered to be the Northernmost city of the world Tromso is the Norway’s gateway to the Arctic and is the largest urban area in Northern Norway.
Archaeologists have uncovered inscriptions which date back to the area being settled as long ago as 7000 BC although it wasn’t until 1252 when the town as we see it today began to establish itself with the construction of the first church of Tromso. It’s not hard to see why the location was an attractive one with its position on the Norwegian Sea enjoying ice-free access to the abundant Arctic fishing with whaling and hunting being a major subsistence industry. Interestingly, Tromso received city status in 1794 when the population was made up of just 80 residents!
By the 19th century, Tromso was regularly trading both to the East and West and attracting wealthy merchants from Russian, Britain, Germany and France. The mix of cultures produced a rich metropolis and earned the town its nickname, the ‘Paris of the North’ which you can still hear to this day.
The city grew during the 19th century to include a shipyard (1848), museum (1872) and brewery (1877). Tromso was also a major player in the Victorian expeditions to conquer the Arctic and was the starting point for explorers such as Roald Amundsen, Umberto Nobile and Fritjof Nansen.
Occupied by Nazi Germany in WWII the city was an important strategic location for the Germans and the allied forces were able to sink the mammoth German battleship ‘Tirpitz’ in the fjords around Tromso in 1944. Spared the scorching tactics employed by the retreating Germans the city bears few scars from this occupation.
By the 1960’s the city welcomed some major improvements to its transport links and saw the end of the era of the seaplane when the Langnes airport opened in 1964. However, a catastrophic fire in 1969 sadly destroyed much of the city’s wooden buildings and much of the city centre had to be rebuilt. However, the development paved the way for the opening of the city’s university in 1972 and, as the world northernmost university, helped cement the city’s standing. In fact, Tromso is considered one of Norway’s most important educational regions with students excelling in fields such as aeronautics, biotechnology and other high-tech industries. The university also covers traditional trades that are vital to the local economy such as fish processing and fishing as well as fish farming.
The city has a population of around 50,000 although the outlying municipality and influx of students increases this to around 72,000.
Being located so close to the Arctic Circle Tromso is a popular destination for tourists looking to cruise in search of the Northern Lights, whales or just to take part in an Arctic adventure. There’s a great deal of activities on offer from dog-sledding, hiking and kayaking to snowshoeing, cross country skiing and reindeer rides. There are a large number of operators offering fishing trips as well as boats to charter.
With the fire of 1969 destroying a large number of historical buildings the architecture of Tromso is a muddle of different styles from the Arctic Cathedral built in 1965 which resembles a giant iceberg to buildings from 1800 there is something to suit everyone. A cable car takes you up Floya Mountain from which you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city.
If you have the opportunity to spend some time in the city then do look out for the World Theatre (Verdensteateret), the Main Square and the Oelhallen pub situated beside the Mack Brewery; even better, if you are visiting during August then you can enjoy the Tromso Beer Festival!
Speaking of festivals, the city plays host to a large number of cultural events during the year including the Bukta Open Air Festival, Northern Lights Festival or Reindeer Racing Championships. Held each February, the races are run through the city’s streets and the reindeer reach a staggering 60km/hr!
One of Norway’s largest overall ports and the biggest fishing port, Tromso is an important hub for both passengers, cargo and fishing vessels. With over 8,000 ship calls, half a million passengers and 1.03 million tonnes of cargo passing through in 2015 the port is a busy hub. The port covers an area of 2000 acres with a quay length of 2.1 km and is home to over 100 businesses.
Fishing represents a large proportion of this activity; 36% of the vessels arriving and 31% of the total tonnage by freight volume. The ships are mostly Norwegian or Russian in ownership but most European countries are represented in the returning fleet. In order to accommodate the volume of fishing vessels operating from Tromso the port authorities are planning to expand their provisions to include a new dedicated 300m long quay, service and warehouse with freezer terminal specifically for the fishing
Rogaland County - Stavanger & Kopervik
Rogaland County in Western Norway was called Stavanger, after its largest city until 1919 and is a predominantly coastal region consisting of fjords, islands and beaches. The principle island, Karmoy is a logistical port hub for both passenger ferries as well as fishing and cargo vessels.
With traces of settlements dating back to the Ice Age and with Viking origins the city of Stavanger is the third largest urban zone in Norway. The city as it currently exists was officially founded in 1125 at the same time that construction of its cathedral was completed though its historical importance is cemented in 872 with the Battle of Hafrsfjord. An important date in Norwegian history, the battle site is marked with an impressive monument of three bronze swords standing up to 33’ in height. Each sword represents one of the three kings who fought on this date; King Harald Fairhair, who was victorious, established a united Norway under one crown.
One of Norway’s oldest cities the streets are home to around 200 historical buildings dating back to the 18th century, many of which are wholly constructed from timber. Most are situated within the preserved old town (or Gamle Stavanager) which is closed to motorised traffic and offers a picturesque tourist spot where freshly caught lobster, shrimp and crab are sold along the harbourside and open-air market.
The old wharf, home to the Stavanger Maritime Museum which has an impressive display on the history of sailing, has about 60 wharf houses that offer a traditional view of how fishing shaped the city. Mostly converted into offices and small businesses the buildings were once used as salting works for herring or store houses. A few hundred metres away you can find the Norwegian Canning Museum, a nod to the heady economical success that Stavanger enjoyed in the 1950’s as a result of the herring fisheries boom. Once home to over 50 canneries, Stavanger became known as the Canned Capital of Norway and, whilst the last factory closed in 2002, the museum is still operating to demonstrate the processes once used. Using original machinery, visitors can taste the freshly smoked brisling straight from the can.
By the late 1960’s Stavanger’s focus had shifted from fishing to oil as the proximity of the rich oil fields in the North Sea combined with the strategic location of its port made the city a natural HQ for such activities. Modern day Stavanger is known as the Oil Capital of Norway and the Norwegian oil company, Statoil, is based from the city.
Stavanger is also the location for Norway’s largest bank robbery when, in 2004, around £8million in cash was stolen from the NOKAS cash depot.
With an annual rate of over 50,000 portcalls, Stavanger is one of Norway’s busiest ports with cruise vessels, cargo ships and fishing boats all using the facilities. The port is considered to be the gateway to the Norwegian fjords and the majority of traffic is made up of cruise and recreational vessels with tourists keen to make the most of sightseeing and the retail opportunities offered by the city of Stavanager.
A large port with excellent facilities the port offers anchorage depth of over 23.2m and up to approximately 500’ in length, the harbour is coastal breakwater.
Located on the island of Karmoy, Kopervik is a hub for people travelling to both Bergen and Stavanger. The local economy is based on both fishing and aluminium smelting. Home to a population of around 8,000 inhabitants, Kopervik is a lively place offering much in the way of entertainment and activities for tourists and travellers alike. With a pedestrianised precinct for its range of independent shops, cultural centre and bustling harbour the town is a popular location for many people visiting Rogaland County. An eclectic mix of traditional and contemporary styles, Kopervik’s architecture offers a treat for anyone interested in the history of buildings in Western Norway.
The town’s history dates back to the 12th century when it is rumoured that King Sverre I of Norway ordered a wooden castle to be built on the headland which marks the entrance to the harbour; though there is no evidence that this was completed it does exist today in the parlance with parts of Kopervik being referred to as Treborg, meaning ‘wooden castle’.
Kopervik was acknowledged as a town in 1866 with a mere population of 787 after the prior settlement began to grow in the early 19th century due to the rise of the herring fisheries in the area; the sheltered strait upon which the harbour lies being an ideal place for such an industry. It was also the location of a strategic raid during WWII by the 14 Arctic Commandos when, in 1943, a raiding party sank several Axis shipping vessels with the use of limpet mines.
An open roadstead harbour, Kopervik is a very small port offering anchorage depth up to 10m and is popular with recreational vessels as well as small fishing boats.
Focus on Norway: Bergen
Once the capital of Norway, Bergen is the second largest city in the country and is situated on the West coast along the Byfjorden, nestling in the shadows of the ‘seven’ mountains. Once the centre of trade in Northern Europe the city’s economy is now mainly service based but shipbuilding, fish processing and ship repair operations still exist. Interestingly the city of Bergen benefits from the warmest winters of all Scandinavian cities which ensures that the ports and harbours are kept ice free. This is due to the effect of the gulf stream and gives the city a temperate oceanic climate. However, the area is subject to a higher than average rainfall .
Officially founded by King Olav Kyrre in 1070 AD the area is thought to have had an earlier settlement dating back to around 1020. The city quickly established itself as a major trader with dried cod being its principal export having exclusive trading rights granted by King Hakon Hakonsson at the time. As a result, Bergen became one of Europe’s largest trade centres during the 12th, 13th and 14th century further consolidating its position under the domination of the Hanseatic League (see below) until the early 18th century.
As a major dock, there was no escaping that scourge of the middle ages, the black death, which visited the city in 1349 with the usual devastating consequences. By this point, administration of the country had been transferred officially to Oslo which was named as the new capital city. Bergen however was the country’s largest city until the 1830’s and one of the largest in all of Scandinavia.
The theatre of Bergen was founded in 1850 by the composer Ole Bull and attracted directors such as Ibsen and Bjornson gaining international recognition.
Bergen was occupied by the Germans during WWII and was subject to some air raids by the Allies.
Currently having a population of over a quarter of a million people the city is the birthplace of dramatist Ludvig Holberg and composer Edvard Grieg.
The city is built around squares, known as allmennings, with narrow alleys called smugs measuring just 1m across in places. The most narrow is by the fish market which is only 67cm wide!
The Hanseatic League
A confederation of merchants, the Hanseatic League dominated trade in Northern Europe during the late middle ages to the early 18th century and Bergen played no small part in this alliance. Operating from the Old Quayside, members of the Hanseatic League had their own quarter in the town and enjoyed further monopolies on trading rights granted by the Crown.
The old Quayside (or Bryggen Wharf) was inscribed into Unesco as a World Heritage Site in 1979 and is officially recognised as an important landmark of the Hanseatic League’s trading empire. Whilst fire has ravaged many of the original timber buildings their rebuilding has followed the old methods to ensure that the period charm and traditional structure of the town is preserved. With at least 60 buildings still
The marine industry
Bergen represents around 30% of Norway’s turnover from marine activities with the greatest revenue coming from fish farming but also employment within both the aquaculture and fisheries sector. Home to some of Norway’s leading companies, Bergen is an important hub for the marine industry and collectively invests tens of millions GBP in marine research, innovation and development.
The Norges Fiskerimuseum in Bergen offers visitors the chance to discover the rich history of fishing and trading that helped make Bergen the thriving city it is today. With well-preserved stockfish warehouses housing a wealth of exhibits the collection celebrates the regions coastal heritage, cultural links to the fishing industry and the Hanseatic influence on shaping the city. Situated on the harbour the museum also displays a range of traditional fishing boats.
Norway’s oldest museum dedicated to any business or industry the museum was formed in the 1800’s and is committed to sharing the wealth of its collection to support research into aquaculture, fishing and modernisation of the industry.
The fish market
One of Norway’s busiest markets, the fish market at Bergen has been a popular and important meeting place for fishermen and traders since the early 13th century. Open every day from 07.00 to 21.00 from May to September and Saturdays only during the winter the fish market offers more than just seafood and you can shop for elk, moose and whale sausage.
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