• Norway edition
 
Fish fever hits Norway as Arctic cod spawn
Photo: Erik Veigård/Scanpix - Lofoten, 1999. Geir Olsen, from Bryne, displays the 18.88-kilo fish that made him skrei-fishing world champion.

Fish fever hits Norway as Arctic cod spawn

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
False prophets: Fortune tellers jailed in Norway
Owners of a Norway firm which dealt in Tarot card readings were charged for fraud. Shutterstock

False prophets: Fortune tellers jailed in Norway

A company which provided customers with Tarot card readings and clairvoyant services has seen its owners charged with embezzlement and jailed, a court ruled on Tuesday. READ  

Putin praises Carlsen's 'genius' in Sochi
Vladimir Putin congratulates Magnus Carlsen in Sochi. Photo: Berit Roald / NTB scanpix

Putin praises Carlsen's 'genius' in Sochi

Vladimir Putin arrived fashionably late in Sochi to congratulate Norway's Magnus Carlsen after the Norwegian collected his title and prize money at the Chess World Championship closing ceremony, on Tuesday. READ  

Deadly Enterovirus D68 found in Norway
Norwegian medical authorities have issued health advice against the virus. Photo: Shutterstock

Deadly Enterovirus D68 found in Norway

Cases of the potentially deadly enterovirus D68 has been found in Norway, it was revealed on Tuesday. READ  

Norwegian seals get their own fat app
Photo: Shutterstock

Norwegian seals get their own fat app

Scientists in Norway are set to implant a technology, much like a smartphone app, into Arctic seals in an effort to study the animals' energy use and body weight, it was reported on Tuesday. READ  

Norway tops study of web-savvy countries
Photo: Shutterstock

Norway tops study of web-savvy countries

Norway has ranked as the sixth most connected country in the world and the fifth in Europe, said a recent study. READ  

Norway's risk of terror never greater: PST
Norway is set for a nervous festive period after latest terror warning. Photo: Berit Roald / NTB scanpix

Norway's risk of terror never greater: PST

It is more likely than ever a terror attack will strike Norway and police have responded by instructing its officers to carry weapons throughout the Christmas season, said PST on Tuesday. READ  

Brann v Mjøndalen: Police triple security
Brann and Mjøndalen play for a place in Norway's premier league. Photo: Marit Hommedal / NTB scanpix

Brann v Mjøndalen: Police triple security

Wednesday's crunch soccer match between Brann and Mjøndalen has been deemed a 'high risk' clash by the Norwegian Football Association and police, media reports said on Monday. READ  

Carlsen celebrates with cake, yoga and poker
Magnus Carlsen won the World Chess Championship in Sochi on Sunday. Photo: Berit Roald / NTB scanpix

Carlsen celebrates with cake, yoga and poker

Norway's Magnus Carlsen savoured his World Chess Championship victory in Russia on Sunday by eating cake, practicing yoga and playing poker with friends and family. READ  

Erna Solberg still popular with voters: poll
Norway's first lady in red, Erna Solberg. Photo: Vidar Ruud / NTB scanpix

Erna Solberg still popular with voters: poll

She has recently faced criticism for a controversial Budget, sent her country to war, and had to cope with a series of climate disasters costing the nation millions, yet Norway's PM Erna Solberg is still proving popular in the polls among Norwegians, a recent survey said on Monday. READ  

Norway wants to launch 'Ministry of Silly Driving'
Winter road conditions can make driving in Norway difficult. Photo: Marius Kallestad / NTB scanpix

Norway wants to launch 'Ministry of Silly Driving'

The government is proposing setting up a crash-course in driving on slippery roads for foreign truck drivers living in Norway. The move is designed to prepare them for navigating the often-treacherous Norwegian winter roads. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Health
Norwegian Ebola victim free of virus
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
Society
Norwegian 'child bride' to marry in Oslo
Society
The fickle five: Meet the Nobel commitee
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
Society
Queen Sonja of Norway's nephew jailed
National
Ex-Norway PM set to become head of Nobel
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'
Society
Norway's Princess of the Paranormal under fire
National
Four-year-old Norway girl sleepwalks 4km
National
Photo: Baby cliff edge shocker in Norway
Travel
Cruise line offers Northern Lights promise
National
10-tonne shark found dead off Norway coast
Culture
Britney to visit Norway for lingerie launch
International
'If Snowden wins Nobel Prize, arrest him!': MP
Culture
VIDEO: Swim ace does 'Pool Rubik's Challenge'
National
Norwegian man in 7,000 litre 'Ice Truck Challenge'
Society
Norwegian brewery pulls 'fart-smelling' beer
Sport
Ødegaard: Norway's youngest player ever
Features
Meet Norway's raining kings of fashion
National
Miracle cat survives 20 gunshots in Norway
National
Second death within hours at Chess Olympics
National
Norway and Sweden mark 200 years of peace
Culture
Interview: Helene Meldahl, selfie artist
Society
Now serving ... Norway's smallest bar
Travel
Floating Northern Lights hotel planned in Norway
National
Circus camel escapes again
National
Swiss bus driver charged with careless driving in fatal Norway crash
Society
Brit's charity tractor trek heads for Norway
National
Norway lifts Segway ban
Culture
GALLERY: Ten great songs about Norway
Society
Høie promises to reform sex change law
Education
Norway fjord invaded by monster jellyfish
Culture
VIDEO: Norwegian anti-Facebook film goes viral
Culture
Norway pop duo hits number 4 on US charts
Sport
Norway fan wins big on Suarez bite bet
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

273
jobs available
The Local Spain is hiring!
The Local is seeking a new editor for our site in Spain to join our growing team of internationally-minded, driven, ambitious and clued-up journalists.
Details and how to apply