Small-scale fishing, often practised in combination with small-scale farming, was the traditional economic occupation for coastal peoples in northern Norway. The number of fishers and fishing vessels has, however, gradually decreased throughout the post-World War 2 period.
In 1946, there were 27,132 fishers in Troms og Finnmark county. Around 60% of them practised fishing as the main component of their livelihood. In 1970, their number dropped to around 10,900, of whom 80% had fisheries as the main occupation. Fifty years later, in 2020, there are only 2,647 fishers left. Similarly, the number of small-scale fishing boats (< 11 metres) has declined from 6,797 boats in 1985 to 1,566 boats in 2019. Although the number of fishers and fishing vessels has steadily decreased since World War II, the total catch and catch efficiency have increased sharply since the 1950s. The total annual catch of Norwegian fishers in Troms og Finmark county in the 2000–2020 period hovers around 331,000 tonnes. Small-scale fishers are responsible for 8.2% (in 2000) to 13.2% (in 2020) of these catches, with the remainder being harvested by larger vessels. These statistics speak of fundamental shifts in small-scale fisheries in northern Norway. These changes are associated with new policy approaches to fisheries (such as the use of quotas as a control mechanism following the collapse of herring stock in 1969, the closure of open coastal cod fisheries in 1989, the introduction of the individual vessel quota in 1990 and the tradable quota regime in 1997), and with the ongoing modernisation of the fishery. This includes the development of technologically advanced fishing fleets, a revolution in coastal transportation, and the centralisation of the fishing industry in a more limited number of locations. The decline of what used to be called the coastal employment system of Norway – a situation in which the whole of coastal life was geared to fisheries, and most fisheries were small in scale – has been criticised for the effect it has had on communities. Population numbers in many coastal villages have declined, as has the sense of community.
Keshav Prasad Paudel