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Every winter, hundreds of fishing boats gather on the blustery Vestfjord, usually with a flock of hungry seagulls in tow.
These fishermen are out hunting for skrei, the migrating cod that comes from the Barents Sea to the coast of Northern Norway to spawn every year.
The large species of cod are particularly abundant by the coast of Lofoten, Senja and Vesterålen between January and April.
The skreis’ long journey give them firmer flesh than regular cod, which tend to stay in one place.
The white, mild fish meat is so tender that it turns into flakes if you poke it gently with a fork.
Maybe you want to have a go at fishing your own skrei? It can actually weigh up to 55 kilos and measure as much as 180 centimetres.
When the fish bites, it's time for a skreifie!
Just remember to make use of the whole fish, not just the fillet. Fried cod tongue is a nice and crispy delicacy – a given local favourite!
Skrei is actually the reason people were able to survive so far north.
Stockfish (dried cod) was an important commodity during the Viking Age.
Up north, small fishing villages and trading cities appeared all along the coastline.
During the “lofotfiske” fishing season, thousands of fishermen from all over Norway used to gather in Lofoten. In Henningsvær in Lofoten, the fishing boats were often lined up so close to each other that you could walk from one side of the sound to the other with dry feet.
But fishing could also be dangerous. During a heavy storm on 25 January 1893, 130 fishermen lost their lives.
Today, Henningsvær is one of many idyllic northern Norwegian fishing villages you can visit, with lots of cosy restaurants and small art galleries as well as an active climbing community.
Other fishing villages with a rich fishing history include Kabelvåg, Nusfjord, Røst and Å in Lofoten, Nyksund in Vesterålen, and the old trading post Kjerringøy, located outside Bodø.
Havnnes Handelssted in Lyngen is one of few fishing villages in Finnmark that were not burned down during World War II.
In many places, you can spend the night in a rorbu, a traditional fisherman's cabin, close to the forces of nature.
King Øystein Magnusson introduced the custom of building rorbuer in the 1100s, so that fishermen who came to visit would have somewhere to stay.
Before then, the poor fishermen used to sleep under their boats, regardless of the weather.
You can also enjoy the tasty skrei with a clear conscience. The Norwegian Arctic cod population is one of the most well-managed fish stocks in the world.
Fresh and dried skrei is still one of Norway's most important export products.
This is why the locals in Northern Norway call the characteristic "scent" of stockfish the "scent of money".
The Norwegian word for cod is “torsk”. It comes from Old Norwegian "tursk", which means turret (dried fish).
Skrei dries on racks outdoors for months. The gentle and salty coastal air has just the right amounts of sun, rain, snow and wind, which is perfect for the fermentation process. The fish finally matures indoors.
"Lofoten stockfish" is actually a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) in Europe, like Champagne.
So you just have to try it!
Dried stockfish has to be soaked for several days before it is ready to be cooked. It can then be used baked or grilled in everything from salads to pizza and pasta or stews.
Try the local specialty boknafisk, which is a partially dried variety.
Did you know that Norway’s classic Christmas dish lutefisk is made from dried fish?
As the whole cod is used, nothing is wasted.
These dried cod heads are sold to Nigeria, where they are used as an ingredient in the country's national dish …
… while the cod milk (yep, that’s another word for cod sperm!) is sold to sushi restaurants in Asia.
The roe can be cooked or turned into the most delicious caviar, and the vitamins and omega 3 are extracted to make mega-healthy cod-liver oil.
Thin flakes of dried fish can be enjoyed as a snack 😋
Are you ready for a real fishing adventure?
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