Frode Stroenen's ancestors were both farmers and fishermen and he was fishing before he could even walk, he says. He grew up on a small island near the city of Bergen in southern Norway and participated in his first sprat purse seiner trip (herring fishing) when he was 14 years old; a traditional rite-of-passage still followed by many youngsters in the region.
Fishing became Stroenen's profession, but he took a break for a number of years to assist establish political elections in post-crisis countries such as Cambodia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo. It was during this time that he became exposed to more environmental problems and became an activist. In particular, he became heavily involved in the debate around salmon farming and today he is a renowned expert on fish farm feed leakage.
But Stroenen couldn't stay away from fishing for long. He returned to Norway and to the purse seiners, fishing herring up in the Lofoten and trolling mackerel in the North Sea, as well as fishing from his own sjark (small traditional fishing boat). Most of his catch was delivered to a local retailer.
Today Frode is part-time fisherman in the Hardangerfjord - a long and beautiful fjord that hosts 8% of the farmed salmon production of Norway - and part-time politician with the Green Party. He is a passionate proponent for improving the use of local seafood resources, and restoring the local market for local fish. "Delicacies swim around in the sea just outside our living room, but we do not know how to use this gift to benefit our local economies as the farming community is doing", he says.
When the local market started turning it's back on local seafood, and delivery problems started to occur, Stroenen's interest in ecology, fishing, politics and social fairness lead him to create a cooperative called Fiskfråfjorden (Fish-from-the-fjord). The cooperative united the last wild fish fishermen of the fjord with other community members, to work together to increase the value of local resources.
"People deserve fresh fish from nearby fishing areas", says Stroenen, inspired by the way people are seeking food from local farms. "Locality and food miles have until now been absent in the seafood debate, leading to the gradual disappearance of small-scale fisheries and also to the degradation of ecosystems, specially in fjords (due to pollution and feed leakage for example). Promoting local consumption and resource management could have a huge impact for communities."
A good starting point
Together with representatives from several municipalities around the Hardangerfjord, Stroenen asked the Royal Norwegian Society for Development (Norges Vel) to evaluate the feasibility of establishing a seafood store and café selling local catch. "We studied the whole value chain and discussed the supply of raw material, logistics and the economic potential of the operation," said the project manager and Norges Vel Senior Adviser Marie Melhagen.
To be successful, the project needed to establish a working relationship with a receiving company (Norwegian law obliges all catch to be delivered to a receiving company that weighs and values the catch and provides statistic for research and administration). It also needed to generate the necessary local interest and enough members to finance the establishment. Finding a suitable location was also important.
"The project was based on a realistic overview, which was also important for external actors like banks, potential members of the cooperative and others that played a role in the starting phase", says Stroenen.
A cooperative is born
"We formally registered the Fiskfråfjorden as a cooperative in 2010, and invited fishermen, future employees, consumers and other members of the community to become shareholders. The cooperative's first goal is to establish a retail shop and café. If this first phase is successful, local fish resources will once again be readily available for the community, as well as tourists, and we will contribute to the larger renewal of the local food system," says Stroenen.
The first step taken by the cooperative was to organize a pick-up service to deliver the fish from the 12 participating boats to the receiving company, located more than 100km away, off of the fjord. This service will transport an estimated 200 tons of fish in 2012, much of which will find its way to restaurants and supermarkets in Bergen. "The wholesaler is sometimes waiting at us at the receiving center. The current logistics of fish distribution make it hard for fishermen to achieve faster distribution of their fish to local seafood lovers", says Stroenen.
Spreading the good word
As far as Stroenen knows, this is the first time in Norway that such a comprehensive localized distribution plan has been devised. This approach to create local value for fishing is of course applicable to other regions, and the team is ready to help others and pass on their experiences.
Stroenen believes we need to restore our capacity to care for our surroundings. "I have seen coasts and fjords and mountains from Zanzibar to Montenegro to Nepal. But the ever-shifting Hardanger fjord never stops fascinating me. It changes so much. During the winter you can sit in the quiet snowfall as it reduces the world to a small circle around you, while the next day a storm can transform the whole fjord into a roaring, dangerous place. In spring the diatoms blossom paint the whole fjord milky white and summer brings magical calm and sunny days, with mountains shimmering in the distance. It is this capacity to watch and feel, and experience the beauty of our every day surroundings that needs to be passed on to the next generations. Without this, we will not care enough about the fjord to preserve it", he concludes.
Married to his wife for more than 30 years now, Stroenen enjoys reading, traveling to Italy where he relishes the wine, good food, gelato and coffee, but also architecture and art, the sound of the language and the bustling street life.
Click here to visit the cooperative's website.