The unpredictable market

Norway’s coastal industries are outward-looking and have always been intimately connected to the development of international markets. One had to adjust to rapid changes resulting from wartime blockades, international recession, changes in customs policy, introduction of new, competing products, and not least the declining demand, even in good times, for well-established products in the traditional markets. The fishing industry contains several examples of such adjustments.

The gradual change in the processing of skrei-cod from stockfish (dried fish) to klipfish (split, dried, and salted fish) in the three centuries after 1700 occurred in response to the competition from the salt fish and klipfish that came from the large new cod fisheries off Newfoundland. By the mid 19th century klipfish had become a far more significant product for the fishing industry than stockfish, which also gradually had to find new markets in Italy and Africa. This change led to the northern parts of Western Norway assuming a greater role in the processing and export of fish than earlier and was crucial for the growth of the towns of Kristiansund and Ålesund.

From the 1950s both klipfish and stockfish had to compete for their raw fish against a completely new product: frozen fish. The development of integrated freezer facilities (freezer trucks or vans, refrigerated display counters, and home fridges) in western industrialized countries encouraged an emphasis on the fish filleting industry in the post-war reconstruction of northern Norway. Freezing fish solved the problem that the lucrative markets for fresh fish were far away.

The change-over also strengthened again the position of northern Norway in the processing stage. In the past few decades an increasing number of quality-conscious and fastidious customers, who also make new demands regarding the methods of catching and processing, has sprung up. Stockfish and klipfish probably have a bright future ahead of them as “slowfood” products with a long cultural history.

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