The beginning of the stockfish trade

The origin of the European stockfish trade can be localised in Lofoten. From here the stockfish travelled the world and became an important foodstuff for many countries.


There are reasons to believe that men have harvested the rich waters around Lofoten as long these islands have been inhabited.

The archaeologists found traces of a settlement in Vágar (in Lofoten), that from the end of the 12th century it was developed around trade. From this period the production of stockfish exceeded the population’s needs and the dried cod became a commodity. The commercial trade with stockfish had started. Because of this trade, Vágar was the first urban centre in the north of Norway.

Ships with merchants came from the south to Lofoten to trade stockfish for grain, wine and luxury goods. In the excavations of the medieval town of Vágar, there were found ceramics from many European countries, seals from fine quality fabrics, and other remains from the trade.

The Norwegian trade with stockfish became reliant on Bergen as a staple port and the export of the fish. This reason is what brought to the growth of this city. During the 13th century, the trade assumed much bigger proportions, cementing the close cultural and economic relationships between Northern Norway and urban Europe. For centuries, and up to modern times, stockfish actually was the most important Norwegian export item.

The stockfish was distributed to Northwestern Europe, England and the Baltic Sea area. It became an attractive foodstuff in Catholic Europe due to the stringent dietary restrictions during Lent.

The Black Death, the devastating plague of the mid-14th century, also reached the Norwegian coast and ports. The plague led to a decline for the North Norwegian town Vágar who lost its position as an important trade centre. The settlement was then reduced to a small fishing village. The fishing village remained for over 500 years, and today the site had been transformed into a museum.

One thought on “The beginning of the stockfish trade

  1. A comment from “the archaeologists”: The Late Medieval crisis and political initiatives led to a transformation of Vágar. The urban centre withered, but the fishing village expanded significantly. This was one of the most surprising results of the investigations of the harbour area. Yours RB

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