The High North Tour 2021: Here, They’ve Lived Off Stockfish for Centuries

“We are subject to the mercy of nature. The Lord above decides whether production will be good or extremely good”, says stockfish producer Geir Børre Johansen. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

Røst: The stockfish industry history dates back centuries in Røst, the outermost island off the coast of Nordland, Norway. Right now, six million kilos of cod are hung up on special racks – more than 12,000 kilos per inhabitant.

Geir Børre Johansen is one out of several stockfish producers on the island now preparing for yet another season of exporting a raw product loved in particular by the Italians.

“The entire Røst community is built on producing stockfish”, Johansen says. He is chair of Røst Seafood and Glea, in addition to the only hotel on the island.

“We have some extreme comparative advantages in our not having mountains or forests, and thus there is a good draft in the air year-round. In addition, our winter climate does not hold many days of frost. This mix allows us to produce a quality product that we have been able to live from for centuries.”

What characterizes high-quality stockfish?

“Well, it starts with the raw material. It has to be fresh and bled out. After that, it is about its being well processed at the landing plant, and for the process to take only a short time upon landing before it is hung.”

360 degrees’ view

Moving about in Røst, or rather; in Røstlandet, the island on which people live, is quite an adventure. You have 360 degrees’ view wherever you are on the island. Its highest point lies just 11 meters above sea level.

And wherever you look, your eyes will see racks for hanging fish to dry.

Endeløse tørrfiskhjeller på Røst
Tørrfisk på hjell i alle himmelretninger på Røst. (Foto: Arne O. Holm)
Everywhere you look, there is fish hanging to dry in Røst. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

Røst is more than Røstlandet. The Røst archipelago has a total of 365 islands. Many people will be familiar with the story about Italian nobleman Pietro Querini, who shipwrecked outside Røst and drifted ashore with a group of men in 1432. The connection with the world, and Italy in particular, is not by any means a new invention.

“As for the quality of the stockfish, we are subject to the mercy of nature”, Geir Børre Johansen says. “The Lord above is the one to decide whether production will be good or extremely good.”

Come with us to Røst, see the stockfish and watch the entire interview with Geir Børre Johnsen on top of this page.

Follow the HIgh North Tour 2021

This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.