Industrial structure – multiple activities based on resource availability

Photo: Fylkesarkivet i Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Fylkesarkivet i Sogn og Fjordane.

Seasonal activity in agriculture and fishing
The topography and the favourable climatic conditions have also led to a large part of the population living along the coast, first in scattered settlements and from 1850 onwards increasingly in towns. Outside the towns the vast majority of coastal dwellers lived on family farms. Because of the climate Norwegian agriculture has traditionally been seasonal work with intense activity in spring, summer, and autumn.

Fishing was also for a long time seasonal but with an “opposite” timing: both herring and cod have their main spawning waves in winter and early spring – the off season for agriculture. These waves were at the same time so large that in pre-industrial times their catch required far more manpower than could live by year-round hunting and fishing.

This was true even when there developed after 1880 in favourably situated regions such as Sunnmøre around Ålesund maritime operations that combined different fisheries with seal and whale hunting. In other words the fisheries needed a flexible workforce.

At the same time coastal agriculture in most places needed additional sources of livelihood, since access to arable land was in general more limited and geographically dispersed than in the inland valleys and lowlands. A lot of the settlements along the coast expanded on the basis of the combination of fishing and agriculture.

Fish was a crucial trading item for all who were not self-supporting in grain or other foodstuffs, while the soil provided the most necessary foodstuffs in the years when the catches failed. It was this combination that gave settlements along the barren Norwegian coast a stability that neither fishing nor agriculture alone could have provided.

Caption: On coastlines with little arable land it was common to cut the grass on the islands. Here we see an M/B "Duen" SF-25B off Veststeinen, Vetvik in Bremanger in 1935. The boat is loaded with dried hay. Such a cargo was called "hay farm".

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