Proudly Keeping Traditions Alive
Iceland | Westfjords | Flateyri
“I’m from the Westfjords in Iceland, where life is all about fish and the sea. When I was young there weren’t many other employment possibilities. During the high season it was common for kids to help with the fishing, and that’s how I started. When I grew up I continued to work in the fisheries and with fish-related activities in my hometown, so I’ve really been connected to the sea and fishing all my life, and professionally for more than 30 years.
We are all very aware that the sea and its fruits are what make Iceland habitable, and we know we have to take care of the marine environment. Sustainable fishing, where fishing stocks are monitored, is of utmost importance to the Icelandic people.
I’m actively involved in a project to build a small museum about the history of Icelandic stockfish in Flateyri, in the Westfjords, and I also run a family business here. My husband and two of our children work in the company and our grandchildren are not far off. We own our own small boat and have built a simple plant for processing the catch, mainly haddock and catfish. We produce traditionally dried stockfish, which in Icelandic is called harðfiskur, meaning hardfish. My children take care of the fishing and my husband takes care of the processing. I used to take a more active part, but now my work is mostly administrative: I do the accounting and oversee marketing and distribution for our products. We also regularly employ people to help with baiting and processing, and we sell our products to general stores, food markets and restaurants. A significant proportion is sold directly to consumers.
The only fishing method we use is longline, which is environmentally friendly and sustainable. Sea birds are not endangered and the seabed is not damaged. All of the catch is brought ashore and non-target catch is processed at nearby fisheries. We chose small-scale fishing because we considered it more reliable. In the end, it gives you more freedom and is certainly more suitable for the environment. We are very aware of the potential and the limits of our area.
Our business is very seasonal. Some months are hectic, for example January and February, when the traditional food festivals are held all around Iceland. They require a lot of our product. The summer months are also busy, but we slow down in September and October.
We have been living in the town of Flateyri all our life and everyone knows everybody else here. We are like a family. Our company is open to visitors and now and then students from Reykjavik and nearby towns pay us a visit.
In most of the Westfjords, including Flateyri, fishing and fish processing are the backbone of society. The contribution of fishermen and fisherwomen to the culture is important, not only in terms of food, but also the way of living.
I’m really proud of my work. I’m not only supporting my family, but also keeping alive a very special food tradition. I consider myself lucky to have such a good job and live a meaningful life. I don’t feel that I am sacrificing anything.
I have also been a delegate to the World Forum of Fish Harvesters & Fish Workers (WFF), an international organization that brings together small-scale fishermen to uphold the rights of artisanal and small-scale fish harvesters and fish workers.
I’m worried because most of the world’s fishing stocks are over-exploited and the global marine environment is under serious threat from pollution. Addressing these issues is not simple, but, in the words of one of the objectives of the WFF, we must “create an understanding of the resource as a common heritage of humanity and, through sustainable fishing practices, conservation, and regeneration of the marine and inland resources and ecosystems, ensure that it is passed on to future generations.”
I think the contribution of fishers to this process is extremely important, due to their knowledge and proximity to the problem. Every fisherman and fisherwoman should take responsibility. I myself try to make a difference by preserving food traditions and participating in small-scale fishing organizations, and I’m also involved in promoting food tourism in the Westfjords”.