«Horrible to throw out so much good fish» Fishing for halibut around West Greenland in the inter-war period.

By Karl Egil Johansen

Most of the inter-war period was a crisis for Norwegian fishermen. The principal reason was the extraordinary fall in prices for fish during the First World War. This affected both the herring and cod fisheries. The fishermen tried to resolve the crisis in different ways. One way was to concentrate on more expensive kinds of fish, for which the fall in prices was less. The best example of this is halibut. Fishing for halibut was nothing new along the Norwegian coast, but from 1925 there began a large-scale initiative in more distant waters, in the Davis Strait by West Greenland. Achieving profitability on such long expeditions required the use of large vessels. Cooperation between English capital and Norwegian fishery expertise enabled the equipment of large mother ship expeditions involving several hundred men. The fishing was conducted using long-lines from small motorised dories with three men in each. Specialised workers took care of freezing the halibut aboard the mother ship. The employment contracts set hard conditions, particularly for these workers. Nonetheless, as long as profits were high there were few conflicts. The situation worsened once profits sank, both for the ship-owners and the crews. Halibut is susceptible to overfishing. The fishing was intense, and many halibut were cast away because of unsatisfactory size, in addition to all other fish than halibut. The result was inevitable. The catches declined from 1930, and five years later the mother ship expeditions ceased.