Part three of author Noelle Granger’s trip to Iceland with Aquavit, Herring Girls, Accordions and Puffins.. not a bad day’s sight seeing.. very informative.. head over and enjoy.
We reached the fjord town of Siglufjordur in early morning, after another rock and roll night. This town was once the hub of the global herring industry, and after Zodiacking ashore, we walked through the town to a house where the ‘herring girls’ once lived.
A cautionary tale of overfishing
Siflufjordur is the herring capital of the world. The herring industry began in the 1800’s but really took off in the early part of the 20th century and became an important factor in Iceland’s climb from poverty of affluence. The international herring fishery in Icelandic waters took in between 10 000 and 25 000 tons per year during the first decades of the 20th century, and following the government’s assertion of jurisdiction over herring fishing out to 12 miles from shore in 1958, the catches exceeded half a million tons. Despite being warned of the perils of overfishing, the fishing continued and catches fell precipitously by the late 1960’s, when the only remnant of herring stock could be found off Norway. The stock slowly recovered in the Norway waters and herring returned to Icelandic waters in the 1990s. Fishing quotas are now highly regulated and the processing of the herring is automated.
Who were the herring girls? They were the daughters of farmers who migrated to Siglufjordur in the thousands to process and salt the cod from May to October, before the herring disappeared. The task was arduous but well paying, and when thousands of foreign fisherman came ashore, this largely young and unattached workforce found opportunities for dancing, music and entertaining – there were eighteen pubs in the 1920s.