North Sunnmøre. The prime region for early deep-sea fishing.

By Atle Døssland

North Sunnmøre distinguished itself from the end of the 19th century as a pioneer region in the development of modern techniques in several aspects of commercial fishing, particularly with regard to distant water fishing with large vessels; decked smacks and, subsequently, steam powered fishing boats. The reasons for this primacy are discussed in this article.

To some extent the principal agency can be connected to specific pioneers and accidental circumstances over a long period of time. A well-established and particularly strong mental attitude to experiment is perhaps a more basic reason, together with a tradition of collective ownership and a determination by ship owners to give practical skippers a lot of leeway. A more concrete reason is probably the natural environment and geographical situation. This region was unusually close to the rich fishing banks far out to sea (the Storegga Slides). It was also easy in this region to keep the expensive deep-sea fleet productive throughout the year. Deep-sea fishing could be combined with the rich seasonal fisheries along the coast, both for cod and herring. At other times of year, the new vessels were engaged in various seasonal fisheries at a greater distance, even around the Faroes and Iceland. Nor was it forbiddingly far to the western icepack where many Sunnmøre vessels took part in seal hunting.

Merchants in the relatively newly-established town of Ålesund were not fixed within a traditional method of organising fisheries. Many had roots in the farming society and they could maintain close relations to active fisherman-farmers. Fishermen-farmers from the northern part of Sunnmøre’s coast could invest with relative security themselves, as they enjoyed an unusual productivity from their farms that, in turn, provided a solid economic base.