The History of Stockfish

Stock Fish is probably one of Norway's oldest trading commodities. For centuries it has been traded abroad in exchange for skins and hides. Only in recent years has the nutritional value of Stock Fish become fully acknowledged.


The Norwegian, viking chiefs who ruled over their different domains in Saga times ventured out into the world and traded Stock fish in exchange for wine, corn and cloth. There is no doubt that Stock Fish also comprised the main basis of their diets when they left on their long voyages in open ships. In fact, until the turn of the last century there was barely a household in North Norway that did not rely on fishing.

The chiefs of Hålogaland left on long expeditions to the far Dvina estuary in the White Sea. They considered most of the northern part of Sweden, Cola and the whole coast to the north as their trading area. All depending on the season they traded and fished, farmed to provide for the winter and went on viking raiding expeditions. They were landowners and at the same time wholesale dealers in skins, hides and Stock fish.


Towards the end of the viking period those staying in the Hålogaland area gave up foreign trading. Later, Bergen became the place where the natives of Nordland met with the merchants from Europe. People from the whole of north and west Europe met in Bergen to trade fish, skins and hides in exchange for wine, cloth and corn. Gradually it was the west ­ Germans ­ Hanseatics who took over this business. For the first time those in North Norway could trade on a regular basis in Stock fish and fish oil. This allowed people to settle in small fishing stations further north, where the soil could be unproductive but the fishing was good. Not only the population of Lofoten and Vesterålen increased but also up the coastline as far as Finmark.


The Hanseatic time was replaced later by the monopoly era. Already, early in the 14. century there was a tendency to monopolise the trade from Nordland to the towns of Bergen and Trondheim. By the year 1550 the situation had intensified and all foreign trading from North Norway had to be carried out with the creditors in these two towns.

Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages almost all fishing comprised of Stock Fish. This Norwegian product, as it still is today, was obviously the best on the market. At the middle of the 16. century Stock Fish (salt) was challenged by split dried Cod (fresh), though Stock Fish never lost it's popularity with the Italian merchants.

18th century

In the 1830's things changed for the people of the North. It started with the local merchants in Lofoten buying in large quantities of fish straight from the sea. This enabled the fishermen to obtain ready cash and as a result the merchants in Lofoten gradually took over more and more of the business until they finally replaced the creditors in Bergen.

Past hundred years

During the past hundred years the export of Stock Fish has experienced tremendous changes. It has now become a world wide export with our most important markets being Italy, Sweden, USA and Nigeria. Stock Fish is now exported to 30 different countries.


  • TMS - The history of stockfish - http://www.tms-as.no/English/history.html

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This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran

Created: Sunday, December 09, 2001; Last Updated: Sunday, January 26, 2014
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