The sea, it's in our soul

Fishing communities have been the beating heart of Norway for thousands of years. Our ancestors’ craftsmanship and knowledge lives on within us, while skills and practices have been refined over the years to ensure Norwegian produce is of the highest quality possible.

Mackerel has been part of this rich seafaring history. It has even appeared in archaeological excavations at Kaupang near Larvik, suggesting that Vikings also enjoyed the delicious taste of Norwegian mackerel!

Priest Peder Claussøn Friis (1500s) references mackerel in his book “Norges beskrivelse”. He tells us that mackerel was caught by hook, line, net and purse. He also adds that it is “a delicious fish – fat and savoury”.

The taste of summer

Mackerel is an important fish both culturally and economically, particularly for communities along the southern coast of Norway where it swims close to shore. Its popularity in these regions has earned it the name “the national fish of Southern Norway”.

Traditionally, mackerel is associated with summer here, because that is when the shoals start to head north and swim closest to the shore. Before the days of purse seiners, this made the fish far easier to catch. So, while the premium catch period for Norwegian mackerel is in autumn, it continues to represent “the taste of summer” for Norwegians.

In the mid 1800s, mackerel took centre stage in the Norwegian diet. While fresh mackerel was a privilege only for the rich, the majority of Norwegians enjoyed salted, smoked or preserved mackerel. The most common method of preserving the fish was in brine and the mackerel was stored in large barrels. Most Norwegians had a barrel of mackerel saved for the winter!

Sprat: a new adventure

The late 1890s brought about big changes for Norway’s fishermen, with the introduction of canning factories. Sprat (a smaller member of the herring family) became the backbone of this new and exciting industry. Later on, small herring and mackerel joined the sprat as important products in the canning industry. In fact, canned mackerel with tomato sauce is still a popular sandwich spread in Norway today. 

Stavanger rose to become Norway’s most prominent canning city, establishing around 70 factories in the 1920s – there’s even a museum dedicated to the canning industry in Stavanger today!

Adapting for the catch

Mackerel is a pelagic fish and so it swims vast distances throughout the year. In the past, this meant that Norwegians had to adapt their fishing methods if they were going to catch a nutritious dinner.

When the mackerel came swimming into Skagerrak in the spring, the Norwegians caught it with a drift-net fleet. In the summer, as the fish swam closer to land, the trollers took over. In the autumn, the mackerel was caught using small boats and hand lines, before it swam out to the North Sea again.

In the late 1800s, fishermen started to follow the mackerel out into the North Sea. The mackerel caught here is known as ‘Autumn Mackerel’ and is full of healthy fats and flavour. It was initially caught using a trolling line, but this all changed in the mid twentieth century with the introduction of purse seiners.

Introducing the purse seine

Norway has always been at the forefront of fishing technology, and the 1940s heralded a new, more efficient era with the introduction of the purse seine. With stronger catches now possible, Norway saw rapid growth in the mackerel industry once more. This was bolstered further by the introduction of nylon – a stronger material that reduced net breakages.

Infographic showing a boat with a purse seine

Purse seiners followed in 1962. This prized fleet of dedicated ships enabled the purse-seine to be used in open water, opening up a whole new world of possibilities for Norway’s fishermen. The introduction of approximately 500 purse seiners in 1966 is considered to be one of the fastest turnarounds in the history of the Norwegian fishing industry. Since then, while adhering to government quotas and restrictions, the Norwegian ring net fleet has grown to become one of the most effective fleets in the world.

Securing our future

Norwegian fisheries are far more than history. Through new technologies, improved catch methods and our international relationships, mackerel plays a far greater role in our economy today than ever before. In fact, we export 98% of the mackerel we catch.

Norway’s unique combination of nature, culture and resource administration ensures that our product is of the highest quality and we are able to compete in elite international markets. In 2019, Norwegian seafood had an export value of NOK 107 billion, with mackerel valued at NOK 4.28 billion.

In 2019, Norwegian seafood had an export value of NOK 107 billion

Infographic: fish with export value Norwegian mackerel

Export value of mackerel in 2019 was NOK 4.28 billion.