THE NORWEGIAN SKREI

Arctic cod is ingrained in Norwegian coastal history, its economy and culture. The fish grows up in the Barents Sea between Norway and Russia and migrates to the Vestfjord in Lofoten where it spawns between February and April every year. People who live here have fished this natural resource for over 10 000 years, and due to the seasonal abundance, the fish was dried.

The Vikings took this dried cod – stockfish – on their journeys for survival. It enabled them to discover new parts of the world and to extend their reign. It might have been the necessity of exchange with other cultures or early expression of trade, this is unknown, but traces of Norwegian Arctic cod can be found in many Viking settlements throughout Europe.

Commercial trade of stockfish started in Vágar, the largest town in Northern Norway in Medieval times. The earliest trading records are from 1100 showing trade between Norway and the UK. The Hanseatic League opened trade from Lofoten to Bergen and to all parts of Europe. Stockfish was an important good for people from Russia to the Mediterranean. By 1700 the Italian market opened fully for stockfish and has continued till today. From 1850s the trade with klippfish started as the Norwegians learned to salt fish from the Dutch. They used this method of preservation, first drying, then salting, to extend the market. This allowed trade with Portugal and other European countries in more recent years.

Without stockfish, Lofoten and Norway would be a different place. It has brought economic wealth and power to a very poor, peripheral country. Because stockfish had such a value it was seen as too good to eat. Even today Arctic cod remains mainly an export good which is little consumed, except for some specific dishes which mark certain seasons or celebrations such as boknafisk, a half-dried cod or lutefisk which is served around Christmas time.

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