The sea, it's in our soul
Fishing communities have been the beating heart of Norway for thousands of years. Our ancestors’ craftsmanship and knowledge lives on within us, while skills and practices have been refined over the years to ensure Norwegian produce is of the highest quality possible.
Herring has been an essential part of this rich heritage - it is even mentioned in Snorri Sturluson’s Kings’ Saga, which was written in the 1200s. The sea was teeming with herring during the century Sturluson was alive and it played an important role in the growth of our country.
Herring was also plentiful for much of the 19th century, and it didn’t take long for the Norwegians to start making the most of this abundant resource – exporting to Sweden, Germany and Russia. In fact, Norwegian herring was so popular that exports increased from 100,000 barrels to 600,000 in a period of less than 20 years. This encouraged Norway’s economy to grow from a primitive economy to a capitalist economy and led to the development of cities, such as Stavanger, Haugesund and Florø.
Herring for breakfast, lunch, and dinner
In the 1800s, herring was an essential part of the Norwegian diet, and it could be enjoyed up to three times a day. It was enjoyed in many different recipes - boiled with flatbread, served pickled with potato dumpling or cooked in soup. Salted herring was even used in porridge!
Coping with crisis
Herring’s history is one of great highs and lows. It is a pelagic fish, which means it swims neither near the surface nor near the bottom and it migrates to many different locations during its lifecycle. Without the use of modern search technology, it was possible for the herring to ‘disappear’. The 1870s were a dramatic and difficult time for fishermen and traders – Norwegians left for other cities or began farming on land, some even fled to America. Towards the end of the 1800s, Norwegians headed west towards Iceland searching for herring, a move that resulted in up to 200 vessels being sent annually for the catch. Nowadays, our fishermen use sonar technology to track down the herring shoals. We’ve also introduced a comprehensive managing and monitoring system to ensure our herring stocks remain at a sustainable level.
Sprat, the new adventure.
The late 1890s brought about big changes for Norway’s fishermen, with the introduction of canning factories. Sprat (a smaller member of the herring family) became the backbone of this new and exciting industry, canned in vibrant, branded packaging. Later on, small herring joined the sprat as an important product in the canning industry.
Stavanger rose to become Norway’s most prominent canning city, establishing around 70 factories in the 1920s – there’s even a museum dedicated to the canning industry in Stavanger today! The industrial process transformed sprat into a delicacy and the durable packaging gave Norwegians access to the thriving Anglo-Saxon market.
Introducing the Purse seine
Norway has always been at the forefront of fishing technology and the 1940s heralded a new, more efficient era with the introduction of the purse seine. With stronger catches now possible, Norway saw rapid growth in the herring industry once more. This was bolstered further by the introduction of nylon – a stronger material that reduced net breakages.
Purse seiners followed in 1962. This prized fleet of dedicated ships enabled the purse seine to be used in open water, opening up a whole new world of possibilities for Norway’s fishermen. The introduction of approximately 500 purse seiners in 1966 is considered to be one of the fastest turnarounds in the history of the Norwegian fishing industry. Since then, while adhering to government quotas and restrictions, the Norwegian ring net fleet has grown to become one of the most effective fleets in the world.
1956 was a record year for the fishing industry, with more than a million tons of herring caught. Historian Karl Egil Johansen estimates that this would have been a catch of around 4.5 billion herring. Put top to tail, those herring would be able to reach around the globe 34 times.
Securing our future
Norwegian fisheries are far more than history. The industry continues to generate active communities today and provides a future for many people. Through Norway’s unique combination of nature, culture and resource administration, Norwegian seafood is a world-class product competing in elite international markets – in fact, the seafood industry had an export value of NOK 74.5 billion in 2015, with herring valued at NOK 2.4 billion.
Seafood industry had an export value of NOK 107.3 billion in 2019.
Export value of herring in 2019.