The fishing season during the winter months is a major event in Lofoten. Until recently, it was the main activity for the people of these islands.
From January to April, the Lofoten islands are invaded by fishermen from all over Norway, who come here to catch the famous Norwegian Arctic Cod. This fish migrates from the Barents Sea to Lofoten to spawn.
During this time, Lofoten changes.
First, the surrounding waters are full of fishing vessels, bigger or smaller, which fish almost all the time. These days they draw some areas on the sea for each vessel to fish. In the past (even 50 years ago), these areas weren’t too obvious and fights among the fishermen appeared quite easily.
Second, as soon as you approach the islands, you smell the fish from a distance and it may take a few days until it becomes something normal.
This happens because all over the islands the fish is hung to dry in the wind. The fish is hung without the head. The heads are hung separately. From what I understood, the heads are used to produce flour for Africa.
This method is used because the islands are almost permanently under the influence of the strong winds of the North Atlantic Ocean. Temperature is also important because it doesn’t drop fast under 0 degrees Celsius, not even in the night. As I said in the initial articles, the major factor is not the geographic location, but the major influence of the Gulf Stream which warms up the Lofoten Islands. This way, the temperature is quite constant, somewhere between 0 and 5 degrees Celsius, with no great variations. This fish which is hung is named stockfish and is very popular in countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal.
When we visited the little hamlet of Å, we had a guide who explained us what a fisherman’s life was like 50 years ago. It wasn’t an easy life.
At the beginning of the 20th century a few hundred fishermen went out at sea in their little boats and were caught by a terrible storm.
About 30 men came back alive.
Then, in the 1970s Norway found oil in the Norwegian Sea and, to quote the guide: „Now we have oil, people forgot how difficult was living in Lofoten”. What amazed me was the sadness in his voice and I still can’t explain this.
We took a few dried fish and tried to cook them. From what they say, it should be kept in water for about 48 hours to recover its humidity and then it can be cooked. But personally, I couldn’t taste, the smell was simply too strong. Now, if I return to the guide from Å, I remember asking him at some point why the seagulls or other birds (and there are many in Lofoten) don’t eat from the hung fish which is mostly unsupervised. He said that birds prefer the fresh fish from the sea.
Nusfjord, Reine, Å, Sund, Tind, Ballstad, Kabelvåg, these are some of the most beautiful fishing villages in Lofoten. Fishing for cod in the winter months was very important in the past, therefore at 1100 king Øystein Magnusson built these little cabins for the fishermen called rorbuer. In the old days, the small cabins were so crowded that 2 or even 3 fishermen could sleep in a bed, beds which were placed one above the other on each wall. Inside they used candles for light, only towards the end of the 19th century they started using glass windows.
During the last decades the old fishing cabins have been reconditioned and are now a popular touristic attraction. If you want to feel like going back to the old days, it is recommended to stay in a rorbuer.
Many of these villages are in the southern part of the Lofoten islands and Reine is a famous one. At the end of the 70s, it was voted the most beautiful place in Norway.
Tind, the little village where we found a rorbuer was at about 5 km from Reine and 1 km from Å. It is a typical fishing village recreated for the tourists where you can stay all year and most cabins are owned by private people.