Norway – Landing From A Steamer In The Arctic Country, Svolvaer

It is an odd fashion the rowers here have of facing each other. The rowlocks, too, seem to be different from those used down on the fjords farther south. We do not see the whole of the village yonder—there is considerably more of it straggling along the shore. It is midsummer, and the fishing season in these waters is all over. That was from the middle of January to the middle of April. Many of the boats have now gone much farther north, to the banks of Finmarken, following the cod in their annual migration from deep Atlantic waters to favorite spawning grounds, and so lengthening the time of work and profits. The cod are taken in various ways, with nets, long lines and short lines ; often the fish come in such dense shoals that a man with a hand line can take them as fast as he can bait and remove from the hook. Artificial minnows are largely used for the bait. A single boat often brings in a catch of six thousand, and in a first-rate season, from eight to nine thousand boats frequent the island “banks,” taking altogether between thirty and forty million fish.

While the season is at its height, there is a great deal of work to do on shore in and around those fishhouses at the water’s edge. Most of the fish are salted and dried, some being split open when cleaned, and spread out like a book opened flat (klipfisk), and some cleaned and salted with no more opening than is necessary to remove perishable interior parts (rundfisk or stokfisk). Those taken at the end of the sea-son are usually split open, and have the backbone taken out (rotskjar). The fish are dried in the sun on the rocks or on drying racks.

Some of the fish-heads are cooked with seaweed and made into fodder for cattle. It seems strange that cattle should like it, but fortunately they do. Vast quantities of other fish-refuse are made into fertilizers, and shipped to Continental markets.

All this requires large numbers of men, but only for a few months in the year, when temporary huts are built for those who come from hamlets and scattered farms all along the fjords of the mainland. Taking the kingdom as a whole, one person out of every twenty depends on these or similar fisheries for a livelihood.

Just now the place is quiet enough, save when a vessel comes to take on a cargo of fish for the distant markets.

Sixty miles east of here, across an island-dotted reach of the sea, is the end of the most northerly rail-way in the world, Victoriahavn, leading to Stockholm, and so connecting with the Baltic ports of Europe. A good deal of fish goes over there for export trade.

There are a few families living here all the year round, and it is not a bad place to live. Shall we land and get a more definite notion of what such an Arctic fishing town is like?