• Norway's news in English
 

Fish fever hits Norway as Arctic cod spawn

AFP · 1 Mar 2012, 10:40

Published: 01 Mar 2012 10:18 GMT+01:00
Updated: 01 Mar 2012 10:40 GMT+01:00

Grabbing a cod head, Alexander Leirvold expertly threads it onto a long spike on a wooden pole before cutting out the pearly-white tongue, considered a culinary delicacy.

"It's easy to do, and I make really easy money," boasts the 15-year-old, wearing heavy black and orange rain gear and blue rubber gloves, as he slices out several tongues a minute at the Marine Fresh fish-filleting factory in the tiny village of Napp in Norway's Arctic Lofoten islands.

Leirvold is taking part in a northern Norwegian tradition that stretches back perhaps 1,000 years and whips the region into an annual winter frenzy: the migration of millions of cod through hundreds, even thousands of kilometres of the icy Barents Sea to spawn here.

These East Arctic cod, called skrei in Norway from the old Norse term for "the wanderer", is a bonanza for fishermen, with locals mad for their fillets, while the tongues are savoured as a culinary delight that even enables kids to earn good pocket money.

Mickael Feval, a gourmet Parisian chef boasting a star in the prestigious Michelin guide, is an ebullient fan and now on his third trip to Lofoten to study the fish.

"The difference with other cod is that this fish has swum so far to get here through the Barents Sea. It has really developed muscles... The texture is amazing," he tells AFP after personally choosing the specimens he will serve with "a French touch" at a gourmet dinner in Lofoten the next day.

Skrei belongs to the world's largest cod stock, estimated at around 1.7 million tonnes in the Barents Sea where it is fished by Russia and Norway.

From late January to early April, skrei make their way along the northern Norwegian coast, with nearly half ending up around the breathtaking but inhospitable Lofoten islands, which were settled thousands of years ago by people drawn by the abundant fish.

About a millennium ago, exports of dried skrei began from the islands, and much of the annual catch is still dried and sent around the world, especially to bacalao-loving countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal.

For the some 25,000 inhabitants of this archipelago, around half of whom still make a living off the fishing industry, the skrei season in the dead of the dark Arctic winter is ironically the highlight of the year.

"When the first skrei come in, we almost have fist fights outside here. Everyone wants this fish," says Bjørn Arne Bendiksen, foreman at Marine Fresh factory in Napp, a town framed by snow-dusted jagged black mountains that plunge straight into the icy green sea.

'Eat it with a clear conscience'

Amid concern over declining cod stocks worldwide, Norway's heavily regulated skrei catch has received the high-level Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for sustainable and well-managed fisheries, as well as a clean bill of health from environmentalists.

"This stock is in very good shape," says Fredrik Myhre, a fisheries and marine conservation specialist with WWF's Norwegian chapter. "You can eat it with a clear conscience."

Skrei migration patterns, however, make for irregular earnings for the fishing industry, which is also concerned over the possibility Lofoten waters could be soon opened to disturbing oil prospecting.

About 75 percent of all fish caught off northern Norway each year is landed before May 1st, according to the Norwegian Fishermen's Sales Organisation, which sets fishing quotas.

"If you don't make money during the winter you're not going to make much that year," Bendiksen says, as large crates of fish are lifted into the factory where assembly line workers swiftly gut them.

Last year, Norwegian vessels pulled in over 340,000 tonnes of cod worth a total of nearly four billion kroner ($709 million), according to their sales organisation, with 50,000 tonnes landed in northern Norway in the month of March alone.

And this year, the sea around Lofoten seems to be teeming with even more skrei, which can mean big money even for small coastal fishing vessels.

"I could take holiday for the rest of the year after working just four or five months. There is so much skrei," 53-year-old fisherman Frann Fridthjoff Nygård says after unloading the day's catch at the Napp docks.

Of course, in the dead of winter with the sun still barely breaching the horizon the work can be gruelling.

"I have small boats, so I'm really dependent on the weather," said the fisherman with a bushy brown mustache who works alone on two small vessels with a total skrei catch quota of around 90 tonnes this season.

Nygård has to work hard to make his quota, but last year bad weather kept him on dry land for 17 days.

For the slew of kids like Leirvold making pocket money cutting tongues, the work is fortunately easier.

"I sell them for 50 kroner ($8.80) a kilo (2.2 pounds) and can easily make 1,000 kroner in an afternoon," he says.

Locals go wild for the tongues, which when served -- often breaded and fried -- resemble large scallops, and the young cutters can rake in as much as 50,000 kroner in a good season.

Children as young as six have been known to take part in this tradition, which Eivind Holst, the mayor of Lofoten's largest municipality Vågan, insists is a good way to build character.

"This is the best school you can imagine," says Holst, who himself cut tongues when he was a teenager, laughing off any notion that the practice amounted to child labour.

Tongue-cutting is an after-school activity that kids beg to take part in, he says, though "school is the top priority."

"But up here, if you're a kid looking to make some pocket money, you basically have the choice between a paper route and cutting tongues."

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Norwegians jailed for smuggling fake valium
The pharmacy sold the men chlorpheniramine telling them it was valium. Photo: Norwegian police

Norwegians jailed for smuggling fake valium

10 hours ago

Two Norwegians have been jailed for smuggling, even though the pills they were caught with, which they told police were valium, were in fact antihistamines available over the counter.

Dead pianist's husband did time for beating her

Dead pianist's husband did time for beating her

11 hours ago

The Norwegian husband of murdered pianist Natalia Strelchenko beat and threatened to kill her less than a year before they married, Norway's VG newspaper has discovered.

Norway's armed forces get organic underwear
Eco-friendly army underwear. Photo: Norwegian Armed Forces

Norway's armed forces get organic underwear

16 hours ago

Norway's armed forces are embracing eco-friendly clothing, putting in a massive order for organic bras, boxer-shorts and pants.

Norway sends convicts to 'luxury' Dutch prison
Norgerhaven is a 'cushy' prison, with good facilities. Photo: Haakon Mosvold Larsen / NTB scanpix

Norway sends convicts to 'luxury' Dutch prison

1 day ago

Norway on Tuesday sent a group of convicts to a jail in the Netherlands for the first time because its own prisons are filled to the brim.

Video
Stunning footage of girls skating Norway peaks
Ishtar Bäcklund taking a tight corner in the Norwegian mountains. Photo: Screengrab

Stunning footage of girls skating Norway peaks

1 day ago

Stunning footage of a group of mostly female downhill longboarders riding down the Norwegian mountains has gone viral, pulling in over 190,000 views on Vimeo.

Oslo church wants to remove 22 July memorial
The Oslo church council is adamant that the heart must eventually be removed. Photo: Oslo Church

Oslo church wants to remove 22 July memorial

1 day ago

Oslo's church council has been attacked for attempting to remove a sculpture commemorating the victims of Anders Breivik's 2011 twin terror attacks.

Norway company turns pine trees into hotdogs
This tasty hotdog could soon be part pine. Photo: Steven Depolo/Flickr

Norway company turns pine trees into hotdogs

1 day ago

A Norwegian biorefinery company has started turning waste wood fibre into a cream-like fat substitute which it claims can be used to make ice cream, mayonnaise and even hot dogs.

Smokers in Norway 'like Jews under the Nazis'
Geir Finne describes his platform to iTromso newspaper. Photo: Screen Grab

Smokers in Norway 'like Jews under the Nazis'

2 days ago

A politician from a fringe conservative party in the far north of Norway has compared the plight of smokers in the country to that of Jews during the Nazi occupation.

Norwegian arrested for murdering star pianist
Natalia Strelchenko was just reaching her maturity as a pianist. Photo: Natalia Strelchenko website

Norwegian arrested for murdering star pianist

2 days ago

The Norwegian husband of renowned concert pianist Natalia Strelchenko has been arrested by police in England on suspicion of murdering her.

Norway PM pushed to follow Merkel on asylum
Christian Democrat leader Knut Arild Hareide on Sunday called on Solberg to suspend the Dublin Regulation.

Norway PM pushed to follow Merkel on asylum

2 days ago

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg is under pressure to follow her German counterpart and stop sending refugees back to the country in which they first arrived in Europe.

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS

National
Norway man built secret child's room in cellar
Education
Norway starts school for Vikings
Sport
Sepp Blatter should win Nobel Peace Prize: Putin
National
The oddest TripAdvisor comments about Norway
National
Experts baffled by freak downpour in Norway
National
Dude, where's my house? Avalanche smashes Norway farmhouse
Culture
VIDEO: Norway artist's naked tree stunt goes awry
Health
Norway scientists find secret behind gluten intolerance
National
VIDEO: Have you seen this jet ski blunder at a Malmö hotel opening?
National
Oslo is the crystal meth capital of Europe
Sport
VIDEO: Man in Norway catches fish too big for boat
International
'Snowden could come to Norway to collect prize'
Technology
Oslo builds world's first bumblebee highway
Culture
World’s biggest elk statue arrives in Oslo
Norway's men soon to be among Europe's fattest
National
Muslims form 'ring of peace' at synagogue
Business & Money
Schumacher's Norway retreat sold for $3m
National
King Harald visits Antarctic namesake
Culture
Norwegians streak the streets of Berlin
Culture
Norway couple find love on word game app
International
Norwegian chef wins world's top food prize
Politics
Solberg: The fight for freedom isn't won
National
Gaza doc named Norway's person of year
National
Norway extends Russian military freeze
National
Kjell Inge Røkke tops Norway's Rich List
International
Surprise! Norway priciest for home comforts
National
Norway terror attacks to become TV drama
International
Malala: Youngest ever Nobel Peace Laureate
National
Norway celebrates 25 years of Sami politics
Business & Money
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
International
Norway best country for older people
National
Muslim centre wanted on site of Munch Museum
International
Norway to send military staff in fight against IS
National
Father warns Breivik 'more extreme than ever'
National
Four-year-old Norway girl sleepwalks 4km
Travel
Cruise line offers Northern Lights promise
National
10-tonne shark found dead off Norway coast
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

2,119
jobs available