Proceedings of the Third World Fisheries Congress: Feeding the World with Fish in the Next Millenium—The Balance between Production and Environment

Technological and Environmental Challenges for a 10-Fold Increase in Value of the Norwegian Seafood Industry

Knut Sunnanå, Kjell Ø. Midling


The development of the Norwegian fisheries industry has always been based on trade of fish products to an international market (Nedkvitne 1988). The status of fish as food for the Christian peoples of Europe was strong in medieval times as the church enforced its rules on daily life. Fish had to be eaten on about 150 days of the year, creating a strong market demand for fish (Kurlansky 1997). Although fish were a natural part of the food supply for Norwegians in medieval times, other food items were obtained by trading fish products with the European market (about 30% of the food supply). Traditional fish products are dried fish (stockfish, rotskjaer), salt-cured fish (saltfish), and dried salted fish (klipfish).

Europeans established themselves in Norway with the goal of trading fish. The Hanseatic merchants from northern Germany established themselves in Bergen, the largest Norwegian city, situated on the west coast, and developed the fish trade with the northern parts of Norway (Mykland 1977). Traditional fishing gears used were hand-line, longline, and gill nets, and the fishing vessels were open boats operated by three, four, or five fishermen using oars and, to some extent, sails.

Herring fisheries developed mainly as a result of industrial processing. Atlantic herring Clupea harengus was salted in barrels, on shore and aboard large vessels. Fishing was undertaken on small vessels using gill nets, and the catch was delivered to shore or to larger vessels, where the herring was salted. This technology was then also transferred to the cod fisheries; larger vessels traveled northward along the coast of northern Norway and bought Atlantic cod Gadus morhua for salting directly from the fishermen operating their traditional vessels. However, local Norwegians carried out most of the production, and local legislation was developed to protect the local ownership of vessels and production (Solhaug 1983).

The quality of fish products varied widely; Norwegian fishermen did not have a good reputation for fish handling (Anonymous 1839). Immediate salt curing improved fish quality, but the effort was made only to the extent necessary to maintain market relations. Thus, the traditional Norwegian fisheries industry for centuries has been one of harvesting and trading, with little processing (Strøm 1949).

At the turn of the twentieth century, the concern of the fisheries resulted in the establishment of several institutions. The Directorate of Fisheries was established in Bergen in 1900, along with the Institute of Marine Research and the first Director General of Fisheries, Dr. Johan Hjort, who held that position for 17 years. During several preparatory meetings that culminated in 1902 (Schwach 2000), Hjort and fellow scientists from several countries established the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), a scientific advisory board for managing commissions in the area. The organization gives catch options for stocks that are within safe biological limits, specifically, to avoid stock depletion.

The fishermen started talks about organizing in 1914, but the present fishermen’s organization, Norges Fiskarlag, began in 1926 (Hallenstvedt and Dynne 1976). Norges Fiskarlag is an important party in Norwegian fisheries management. Fishermen also started the first sales organization in 1927 for the firsthand trade of herring. They achieved protection by legislation in 1929. In 1938 came the legislation of firsthand trade of white fish, the “raw fish law,” and following this, the fishermen established sales organizations for white fish (Christensen and Hallenstvedt 1990).