The coastal topography

Salmon fish farm in Loppa. Photo: Per Eide Studio. Norwegian Seafood Export Council.
Salmon fish farm in Loppa. Photo: Per Eide Studio. Norwegian Seafood Export Council.

Norway has the longest coastline in Europe. When reduced to a series of straight lines it measures 2,532 km. But the shoreline – that is, the coastline including all the fjords, inlets, islands, and islets – measures a total of 83,281 km. That corresponds to a distance longer than twice the earth’s circumference. The long shoreline contains an extremely varied coast, which with few exceptions is studded with islands and fjords that cut deep into the mainland.

The many deep fjords that penetrate far into the landmass are one of the features of the Norwegian landscape that makes the strongest impression on the country’s tourists. Fjords such as Hardangerfjord and Sognefjord are sea arms that go right into the mountains and glacial areas. The fjords have thus since the dawn of time provided effective sea routes connecting the different ecological regions across the coastline and enabling an associated economic division of labour between Norway’s inner, middle, and outer districts.

Both resource situations and their connected skills varied according to the distance from the coast. This was particularly important for the production of the necessary tools and equipment for the cod and herring fisheries, such as boats of different sizes, and barrels and crates. Both agricultural products and fish became important items for exchange and trade between the communities of the inner fjord and the outer coast as well as between the fjords and the valleys on the eastern side of the mountains.

The varied and deeply indented coastline created not least good possibilities for seaborne transport, even with very small sailing boats, both deep into the mainland and along the coast. Indeed, this situation is the origin of the country’s name: "Norge" comes from the Old Norse "Nordveg" (north way), meaning the way or the shipping lane towards the North, hence Norway in English.

This system of sea routes for trade and communication was vital for the country’s development since a comprehensive system of adequate roads for most of coastal Norway was not in place until the second half of the 20th century. The indented and sheltered coast also made it possible for to carry out fishing even on a large scale with remarkably small boats; in other words “everyone” – even the poorest coastal dwellers – could participate.

The topography of the coastal waters and favourable oceanographic conditions such as water temperature, salinity, and current are contributing reasons why two of Europe’s largest fish populations, the Norwegian-Arctic skrei (spawning cod) and the Norwegian spring-spawning herring, have since time immemorial had their most important spawning grounds in Norwegian coastal waters.

Vest Fjord, a large inlet of the Norwegian Sea located between Lofoten and the mainland, is a large underwater valley with especially good conditions for spawning. The sheltered ice-free coast with its nourishing salt water was also a necessary precondition for using the sea for fish farms, raising predominantly salmon and trout. In the course of approximately a generation since 1960 this economic activity has developed into an industry with greater primary value added than all other saltwater fisheries combined: "the blue fields". Taken as a whole the Norwegian coast is unique when compared with the situation in other large European coastal countries, which with few exceptions lack fjords and compact skerries. On the Continent, the substitute for fjords is estuaries, where large harbour and fisheries towns were established early on and where today one finds the largest installations for farmed shellfish and mussels.
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