Indigenous and Early Fisheries in North Norway

Indigenous and Early Fisheries in North Norway

By Alf Ragnar Nielssen

The Sea in European History, edited by Luc François and Ann Katherine Isaacs (University of Pisa, 2001)

Introduction: In 1997 a book entitled The History of the Cod, written by the American journalist Mark Kurlansky, was published. Strangely enough, this documentary book soon became a bestseller. In the book Kurlansky pays quite a lot of attention to the early cod fisheries, giving ample space to the legendary pre-Colombian Basque fisheries in North America. In general Kurlansky did extensive background work for his book, with particular emphasis on Newfoundland, where Europeans opened the commercial cod fisheries in the 1500s. He also utilises the literature about Iceland, where the large-scale cod fisheries seem to have started in the early 1400s. Here, however, we will consider the North-East Atlantic, that is, the fisheries of the Norwegian waters and the Barents Sea area. Here we find one of the real cradles of the commercial cod fisheries – which however Kurlansky does not discuss in his book – in the Lofoten islands and in Finnmark, both areas on the Norwegian coast north of the Arctic Circle. Both places are spawning areas of the cod from the Barents Sea. The commercial cod fisheries in Lofoten seem to have started already in the 11th century, in Finnmark a century or two later. The beginning of these cod fisheries then coincides with the starting point of the general population growth in Europe, combined with urbanisation. The urbanisation created a demand for food supplies and became the most important factor in the trade development of Europe.

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