The Herring Adventure of
Herring is one of this century's principal shapers of Icelanders' destinies. Without herring it is questionable whether the modern society that now exists in
- Icelandic Historical Atlas, Vol.3, p.40
Around the turn of the present century Icelandic fishermen and vessel owners were introduced to new fisheries technology. The arrival of machine powered ships and highly efficient gear made extensive cod and herring fisheries possible. Rapid social improvements also helped usher in a new era, and widespread poverty and stagnation gradually became a thing of the past.
Good herring seasons during the great depression of the 1930s, a period when overseas cod markets were closed, probably ensured
The events surrounding the herring fisheries were like an adventure for the Icelandic nation - the great herring adventure that lasted a full one hundred years.
The Norwegian Influence
It all began in the latter half of the 19th century with the arrival of Norwegians who used immense land based nets in the fjords of eastern
After 1883, a combination of pack ice, cold winters and hard times put an end to
By 1903 the Norwegians had returned to new herring ventures in Icelandic waters. Their large fleet must have been an arresting sight as it worked the open waters off north
New herring towns were created and hundreds of Icelanders were employed by the Norwegians to process the herring.
The Icelanders didn't stand idly by, but participated fully in this new adventure, and soon started taking the fishing and sales activities into their own hands. Consequently the once impregnable Norwegian domination of the industry went into gradual but terminal decline. In 1916, for the first time, the barrels processed by Icelanders surpassed in number those processed by Norwegians.
Salted herring was to become a vital foodstuff for many European countries, particularly during the hungry days of the two world wars. Crucial export markets were
When not salted for human consumption, herring was dispatched to reducing factories where herring oil and meal were extracted. The meal subsequently became a staple pet food across
So crucial an asset was the herring catch that for many years it accounted for a staggering 25% of
Iceland's first herring processing plant was built in Siglufjördur in 1911, to be soon followed by bigger, better equipped facilities at all the country's principal herring ports. The spread and scope of these factories was such that they are now recognised as marking the first arrival of large scale industry to
"Herring Comes and Herring Goes"
Marine resources are notoriously unstable, and herring is no exception. Following depressed catch figures in the years around 1950, herring stocks began to be fished as never before. This was due to a new and more efficient fishing technology developed by Icelandic pioneers. Other countries were quick in claiming these advances for themselves.
It was during these years that more and more herring began to be caught in waters east of
Almost overnight the old herring towns and villages of east
In 1969 the herring simply failed to show up. The responsibility for over exploiting the once great Norwegian-Icelandic herring stock clearly lies with the then biggest herring fishing nations:
Iceland's herring towns, indeed the country's entire employment and economic sectors, suffered a severe blow with the disappearance of the herring. During the late 1960s, herring accounted for up to half of
The great herring adventure was over.
"Herring Comes and Herring Goes"