Norwegian fishing history dates back to the Stone Age. The first immigrants to Norway discovered early on that there were rich deposits of fish, seals, small whales and seabirds offshore. Surveys of settlements have shown that the Stone Age people used to fish in sea, water and rivers. Fish established early on as an important resource for the coastal population. During the 1000’s, fish began to be traded as a commodity domestically from northern Norway and south. Around the 12th century, the export of dried cod and herring started to England. The basis for the growth of this trade was fishing in Lofoten and herring fishing in Northern Norway.
Cod and herring fishing are seasonal fishing with insights along the coast in winter. Fishing could thus be run in combination with agriculture and constitute an important financial and nutritional supplement.
Norway got its own Ministry of Fisheries in 1946. Fishing is still one of Norway’s largest export industries.
Stockfish and clipfish as international commodities
In the 13th century, the German Hanseatic states and their trade organizations established themselves in Bergen, and took control of the stockfish trade with Northern Norway from the second half of the 1300s. The stockfish was exported to the German trading cities for further sales in the international market. Domestic turnover was organized through transport cargo along the coastal route between Bergen and north Norway.
The trade was based on the exchange of goods between Norwegian dry fish and imported bread flour, organized by the German trade organizations. Bergen and Trondheim grew during this period as important trading centers. The dry fish was well paid in relation to flour until the 16th century, when the prey ratio changed negatively for the dry fish.
In the early 1820s, there was an upswing in the trout fishery and a significant growth in the production of clipfish. The trading houses in Kristiansund took over an increasing share of the production, while the fishermen became more and more specialized fishermen. The growth in trade led to a flourishing of Ålesund and Kristiansund as trading cities, with 1872–1879 being the big years for clip fishing exports.
Lofot fishing and the trainee institution
Cod fishing in Lofoten was organized in the first part of the 19th century, as in previous centuries, through the institution of investigation. The individual fisherman traded his catch to an investigator, or merchant, in Bergen in exchange for the goods he needed. The institution was maintained through the fishermen’s financial dependence on the investigators. Formally, the institution of inquiry was abolished in 1813, but the real change came with the outbreak of war in Europe at the turn of the century.
The ensuing inflation caused the fishermen’s financial debt to the investigators to be greatly eroded. With the gradual demise of the investigating institution, local fishermen along the coast established themselves as intermediaries between fishermen and merchants in the trading towns. At the same time, and often united in the same person, there grew up land owners who built or bought up the land the fishing villages were on, to rent rudders and helmets to the fishermen.
The “new” forms of organization with landlords, local merchants and trading houses, over time replaced the hunting and direct trade with the trading towns. The Lofot Act of 1816 reinforced the position of the hunters by dividing fishing rights into fishing fields at specified fishing villages. This position was weakened by the new lofot law of 1857 which introduced “free fishing” under state supervision.
Fishermen increase mobility
In Finnmark, the cod cod (spring cod fishery) also flourished in the first half of the 19th century. Finnmark fishing was not organized like the fishing in Lofoten through hunting in Bergen. Fishing therefore provided the basis for increased trade in the towns of Finnmark; mainly with stockfish.
Seasonally, Solder cod fishing in Finnmark comes after Lofoten fishing. Therefore, it gradually became common for fishing vessels to go directly from the Lofoten fishery to Finnmark to participate in fishing for capelin cod. By combining seasonal fisheries, fishermen could specialize in the profession.
In the south-west Norway there was an adventurous spring herring fishing in the early 1800s. Fishing was conducted with nets and landnot. Landnot was capital intensive, but yielded high returns. The need for investment in new gear and vessels led to new forms of organization through the establishment of fishing cooperation, as well as an increased social differentiation between note owners and fishermen who participated without gear (“net dogs”).
The increased investment led to financial dependence on fishing, and it became common for the fleet to follow herring along the coast as it changed the area of insight.