Life on the Arctic Coast: Sigurd is the Mayor of the Fisheries Municipality Lebesby

Lebesby (High North News): Mayor Sigurd Rafaelsen (37) recently had electoral success with the Labor Party in Lebesby municipality, Northern Norway. He looks forward to the investments of close to NOK 400 million being made in a fish plant and a fishing port – and says that it is creating significant engagement in the municipality in the north of Finnmark. 

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"Lebesby municipality has a little bit of everything; we are built on fisheries. We also have the country's northernmost agriculture. We have adopted new industries, such as aquaculture – and we supply energy," says Mayor Sigurd Rafaelsen (Labor) to High North News.

We meet Sigurd outside the town hall on the day he is officially re-elected as the mayor of Lebesby municipality.

The town hall is located in the pedestrian street, just a few meters from the ocean, and almost invites you in.

The building's availability is striking – and matches the mayor –  if we are to belive those who live in Kjøllefjord, a man who listens and talks to everyone.

Sigurd is originally from Sør-Varanger but has lived in the Finnmark town Kjøllefjord for over ten years.

Fisheries municipality

"We are a fisheries municipality, first and foremost. The fisheries have been the basis for settlement here," continues Sigurd.

Today, Lerøy Norway Seafood operates in Kjøllefjord, and their department here is one of the most prominent actors in the red king crab industry. Other significant actors, such as Lyder Fisk and Coast Kjøllefjord, are also located in the municipality.

"We have skilled fishers and the best quality fish," the mayor adds.

The fisheries and the associated industry is the largest industry in Lebesby. However, aquaculture has also grown large in the municipality and employs many.

"We wish to be part of the new industries that come," he emphasizes.

Northern agriculture

Lebesby is in the north of mid Finnmark and is Europe's northernmost mainland municipality. The cod, pollock, and haddock fisheries are located right outside the living room window, but Sigurd says that some of the country's northernmost agriculture is also here.

"Agriculture is an important part of the municipality, especially the inner regions. We now have four dairy farms, but there have been more. These four deliver fantastically when it comes to quality."

He adds that two of the dairy farms are ranked among the top ten in milk quality in Norway, but all are ranked among the top 50. 

"Those who do this possess unique knowledge," he states and refers to the farming and agriculture operated here despite the climate.

The mayor also says there is usually significant egg production in the municipality and that Lebesby has been Northern Norway's largest egg supplier. Currently, there is no production since there is an overproduction of eggs in Norway.

Major investments

In the coming years, major investments are planned for Lebesby municipality. In total, investments of nearly NOK 400 million are to be made.

As High North News has previously reported, Lerøy recently decided to invest NOK 158 million in the Kjøllefjord fish landing facility. The work will begin in 2024, and the fish landing from the 1950s will be torn down and rebuilt. 

The fish plant in Kjøllefjord produces both filets and salt fish but is frequently referred to as Lerøy's red king crab center since all crab landed in the company's plants in Eastern Finnmark is sent to this facility for processing.

"This entails that the fisheries are built for the future and that Lerøy as an actor sees a future here – and that the company can develop its business here in the municipality," says Mayor Sigurd about the investment and adds:

"Fishers who choose to establish themselves here will feel more secure when it comes to delivering their raw materials to the fish plant. We will now get a modern landing that can receive the fish. In turn, this makes the fishers invest in boats and the future."

Mayor Sigurd Rafaelsen (Labor) talks with High North News about the upcoming big investments in Kjøllefjord. (English subtitles are available). 

The state invests in a fishing port

As part of the government fishing port measures, NOK 238 million will also be invested in the Kjøllefjord fishing port. This will go to the development of a breakwater and a deepening of the harbor.

The project will begin next year and is scheduled to conclude in 2026.

Lebesby municipality has long worked with the government to secure the port investment. The process has been ongoing since the 90s with countless meetings, says Sigurd.

"In 2013, we made it to the National Transport Plan for the first time, but then the process of a new government began, and we fell behind again."

"We have worked to be visible, relevant, and present our needs. When one looks at the socio-economic analyses of the port initiative in Lebesby, they are positive – which is quite rare for Northern Norway."

A safe port

The mayor outlines the planned improvements and explains that the port initiatives will make Kjøllefjord a safer port for deliveries with greater capacity.

"We are getting a deepening of the harbor so that, among other things, we can facilitate more traffic. We can receive larger boats with more cargo that can deliver to the fish landings," says Sigurd and continues:

"And then a breakwater will be built that will shield the other side of the harbor," he says and explains that this part of the harbor, where Lerøy operates, is very exposed to the weather.

"When the entire harbor is shielded, we will have the opportunity to put in floating jetties where it could not be done before. And when we dredge out, there will also be masses that can be used for filling in the harbor to create more industrial space for maritime operations."

Sigurd says there is a quarry in Kjøllefjord where masses of stone can be extracted to construct the breakwater.

And vast quantities of stone are needed, says the mayor.

"400 meters of breakwater will be built, and the depth will be 40 meters in some places. The fact that we have the stone close by also makes this project cheaper," he says.

In a municipality like Lebesby, little things can also be big things.

Positivity in the municipality

"We look with positivity at the future in Lebesby and what we are doing now," says Sigurd, who receives feedback from people who want to build houses and move back home to the municipality.

"People believe in the future of Lebesby. The recent investment helps support this. It is a boost. All activity generated, both in the service industry and other sectors, creates synergies, positivity, and engagement. It is incredibly fun to be part of," he continues.

Electoral success for the Labor Party in Lebesby

In this year's municipal elections, the Labor Party went back in several municipalities, including in Finnmark. What did you achieve – that the rest of the party did not?

"I think the result is a lot about the work done over the last four years. We have cooperated well across party lines and pursued an inclusive policy where we also listen to our opponents," says Sigurd.

"At the same time, we have outlined a direction for where we want to go as far as the municipality is concerned. It is important to make use of the opportunities we have and to facilitate the various actors who want to invest in Lebesby."

At the same time, he points out the importance of seeing the problems that exist out there  both small and large.

"In a municipality like Lebesby, even small things can be big things. And often, small changes are needed to change something and I think we have managed to work in line with this and to listen."

Power municipality

Sigurd Rafaelsen and Lebesby municipality also stood out with positive support for the power package presented by the government just before the election.

This will ensure network and power development in Finnmark. In addition, it allows for the electrification of the LNG plant on Melkøya. However, several local parties in Finnmark have been critical of the plans and disapproved of the government parties when the power package was presented. 

What role do you think the power package and how you handled it played in connection with the election?

"I think it has been important. We are a proud renewable municipality, and energy is already part of our possibilities today. We have two hydropower plants and a wind power plant, and we are used to dealing with that; many have their workplaces there and know what this means for society in relation to the activity that is created throughout the year," he says and adds:

"If we are to survive as a community in a small coastal municipality, we must make use of the opportunities we have to create growth and development. For those of us who want to develop power, it helps strengthen Lebesby municipality concerning employment. It helps to give a financial boost to the municipal operation, which is important when we are going to make big investments, whether it is a health building, school building, or cultural building. It is about how we manage to create good lives in Lebesby. This is part of our contribution, at the same time as giving back to the residents by delivering good buildings and modern services," he concludes.

This article is part of High North News' series of reports on life on the Arctic Coast. Feel free to share your tips with our journalist, Hilde Bye.