Stockfish and Puffins?


Location: Svolvær, Norway
Lat/Long: 68° 14′ 0″ N / 14° 34′ 0″ E
Weather Conditions: 60F (16C) Partly Cloudy
The Nykan Ridge outside Leknes.

VIDEO: From Røst to Reine

A video overview of the team’s visit to the tiny island of Røst, the southernmost island in the Lofoten archipelago, and their climb up Mount Reinebringen, to gain perspective of the Lofotens from on high.


Quiet harbor on Røst at sunset.

When we left Svolvær this past week we were excited to make our way to the community of Røst, a municipality comprised of 365 islands and skerries (small rocky islands too small for inhabitants). Røst sits 62 miles out to sea from the mainland, and is known for its seabird colonies and cod fishing industry.

The sun was beginning to set on Wednesday to set as we boarded a small plane to take us from Leknes to Røst. Charlie, Justin, and Aaron knew it would be a short flight — it wasn’t 20 minutes and we were already landing on the island! Despite its short duration, the flight offered some picturesque views of the region as we flew across the Norwegian Sea from the island of Moskenesøya to the main island of Røst, Røstlandet.

Passing over the tail end of the Lofoten Islands at sunset.

When we landed, we walked onto the tarmac where the mayor of Røst, Arnfinn Ellingsen, was waiting to welcome us to this island of 600 people. It was a pleasure meeting Arnfinn as we had an interview scheduled with him the next day to get a pulse of life on the island. We jumped into a taxi, the only taxi on the island, and within 5 minutes we were at our hotel. We spent the remainder of the serene evening photographing fishing boats and landscapes due to the prolonged sunset.


Charlie and Aaron with Arnfinn Ellingsen, mayor of Røst.

The next morning (Thursday) we woke up early to meet with Mayor Arnfinn Ellingsen. Arnfinn has been mayor for sixteen years and grew up on the island. During our conversation, he shared with us information and stories ranging from how the island was discovered and the vital role the cod industry plays there, to the attractions of the puffins and seabird colonies for tourists and photographers. We also discussed the challenges and celebrations on the island.

Pietro Querini's travel route to Røst, where he was shipwrecked.

According to Arnfinn, the most accepted story of how the island became famous for its cod fishing and stockfish production is that in 1432 the Italian Pietro Querini and his crew were shipwrecked on one of the islands of Røst, spent the winter there, and were rescued in the spring by local fishermen. During this time, the locals introduced Pietro and his crew to stockfish (cod that are unsalted and dried on racks), thus establishing a trade connection between Røst and Italy that continues to this day.

In fact, stockfish are Norway’s longest sustained export commodity, and Italy is the biggest importer of this fish. Stockfish has become such an important part of culture in certain regions of Italy that it is celebrated through annual stockfish festivals, the largest of which is held in Sandrigo, Italy – located between Milan and Venice, and sister city to Røst. Sandrigo’s Festa del Baccalà is held one weekend in September every year and has developed into an important marketplace for stockfish. Many Norwegians travel to Sandrigo annually to participate in this festival.

Stockfish production provides a livelihood for the majority of the approximately 600 residents of Røst.

The fishing industry serves as the largest source of economic revenue in Røst; in fact, throughout all of Norway, fishing is only second to oil. The waters around Røst are rich with cod as they travel to the area for spawning from the Barents Sea. Fishing begins in February and is completed by April. During this time upwards of 600 vessels are on the waters around Røst. Fisherman catch the cod and bring it to the island to be hung to dry over the next four months. During those months the fish dry to 20 to 22% of their total weight. The fish are then categorized according to 20 different qualities ranging from color to weight before being packaged for export (90% of the stockfish from Røst are exported to Italy).


Norway’s puffin population makes up about 30% of the world’s overall puffin population. Photo by Bragi Thor.

Another economic and cultural asset in Røst are puffins. Arnfinn described how the puffins of the region attract numerous photographers and tourists. Norway’s puffin population makes up about 30% of the world’s overall puffin population, and many of Norway’s puffins can be found on the islands of Røst. Puffins are known for their brightly colored beak during the breeding season. They feed by diving in the water and breed in large colonies on the coastal cliffs around the island. Unfortunately, we just missed the puffins as they usually leave the region by mid-August, flying back to winter in Ireland before returning in late spring. Throughout the island there were many photographs and artworks of puffins depicting this symbol of the island.

Charlie and Aaron on a search for puffins.

Charlie really wanted to have the opportunity to photograph this beautiful bird. It became a running joke as we continually asked residents if there might be ANY puffins left in the area. One person of the 10+ people we asked believed there were still puffins on the island. That one person provided enough motivation for us to rent a boat, grab all of our camera equipment, and head out on the sea. Unfortunately, luck was not on our side. Although the landscapes were majestic, we did not see a single puffin. Cormorants were a plenty, though.


During our conversation with Arnfinn, he also shared with us his perspectives on education and sustainability. He discussed the direct connection of the stockfish industry to the population of the island, the quality of life, the school, and how his life experiences have influenced how he deals with the challenges and celebrations of the island.

Distant bird islands of Røst at sunset.

There is much to celebrate on the island. Arnfinn noted how its residents enjoy the quality of life and are proud of its community. Røst boasts a relaxed, tranquil atmosphere — everyone knows everyone. We heard these ideas echoed from everyone we spoke with during our stay on this charming island.

The challenges confronting Røst today are primarily centered around energy and water. They are looking at alternative forms of energy so they are not reliant on the mainland. For example, there is a shortage of freshwater on the island. Freshwater currently comes from rainwater that is collected in reservoirs and then filtered for drinking. At times when the water in the reservoirs is low, island inhabitants are asked to reduce their water consumption. Thus, desalination of the ocean water is a technology that is being investigated. There is also a great deal of discussion regarding oil drilling off the island, as well as the pros and cons of installing windmills for wind energy.


There is one school located on the island of Røst. The first headmaster, Joakim Bernhard Reksted, founded the school in 1880. Røst Skole serves grades 1 through 10 and has 72 students currently enrolled in 2011. In addition, there are approximately 40 kindergarteners (ages 4 to 6) on the island that attend a separate kindergarten-only group.

Aaron and Charlie interview principal, vice principal, and teacher at Røst Skole.

We arrived at the school just after the students were dismissed for the day (a typical day begins at 8:00 a.m. and ends at 2:00 p.m.). We met with the headmaster, Tove Andreassen, the vice headmaster, Hildegunn Ekrem, and the school guidance counselor. They shared the history of the school with us and described the current academic experience of its students.

After students finish grade 10 (students are typically 16 years old at this time), they leave the island and their families to complete grades 11-13 somewhere on the mainland, often in the city of Bodø. Off-the-island schooling is expensive, so many of the students work at the local fish processing plants to earn extra money between the ages of 10 and 16 to help save up for this expense.

Tove told us that students often earn as much as 100,000 krone (approximately $20,000) in one summer by cutting the tongues out of the cod and selling them as a delicacy to Portugal. We were greatly impressed that the students run their own business, unaffiliated with a specific organization, and use the money for their academic leave from the island. Some of the students also use the money to buy boats and launch their fishing careers after they complete school.

Once Røst students complete grade 13, they typically take one of three paths: (1) return to Røst to work in the fishing industry, (2) attend a university in Bergen or Tromsø, or (3) explore Norway and/or Europe on a year-long trip.

The stockfish industry provides a livelihood not only for adults on the island, but for young people as well, who need to save money for their high school education on the mainland.

In addition, Hildegunn explained that there is a policeman is on the island for only one week out of every month. So, the school plays a vital role in ensuring student safety and helping students avoid drugs and alcohol. After the age of 10, students enter into a contract with the school promising that they will not use drugs or alcohol; if students maintain this contract throughout the year, they can earn up to 10,000 krone. Furthermore, she explained that since the island is so small and “everyone knows everything about everyone all the time,” it isn’t difficult to know who sticks to the contract and who doesn’t.”

Finally, Tove expressed that the most important role of the school in Røst is that the children are happy during their education and that they feel open and supported to explore any and all professions. Students should be proud about wanting to be a policeman, doctor, fisherman, or teacher, all of which the island of Røst will always need to continue its prosperous existence.


Olaf Pedersen, director of Glea.

After our visit to the school, we were fortunate to be able to meet with Olaf Pedersen, Junior, the current director of Glea, a Fiskemottak, or fish-buying and processing business, on the island. It was Olaf’s grandfather who founded Glea in 1936, and today it is one of five stockfish processing companies on the island. Earlier this summer during her pre-expedition research trip, Jeni was able to interview the former director of Glea, Olaf Pedersen, Senior about the history of Glea, growing up on Røst, and the importance of education in today’s fishing industry.

Glea produces 200 tons of stockfish and 900 tons of fresh fish annually. As mentioned earlier, the fishing season is very short; thus, as soon as the fishing season begins, the docks of Glea are lined with up to 60 boats a day buying the cod from the fisherman before it is cleaned, dried, and then exported. In the winter when the fishing is at its peak, Glea employs 25 people.

Piles of dried stockfish at Glea.

The stockfish industry is a handcraft industry that is the same today as it was 100 years ago. Therefore, the industry is directly related to the people of the island. Although the industry is grounded in “silent knowledge” that is passed on from generation to generation, the fisherman of today, with a mean age of 40, are also very high-tech with the most advanced boats, gear, and computers for measuring the daily catches.

Røst’s location is what allows the stockfish industry to exist and thrive. Olaf shared that the climate is such that when the fish are hung to dry it doesn’t get so cold as to freeze the fish, nor does it get too warm, which would spoil the fish. Røst and Værøy, the two southernmost islands in the Lofoten chain, are the most northern locations in world with average temperatures above freezing all winter. The winter temperature remains stable and moderate, allowing the fish to dry perfectly during the four months they are hanging.

Charlie and Aaron pose with Olaf in the stockfish warehouse at Glea.

During our visit with him, Olaf gave us a tour of Glea and shared his perspective on the connections between education and sustainability. We were also able to meet his wife Suzanna, whom he met while visiting Italy, and their one-year-old daughter, Isabella. An interesting fact is that Isabella was on a plane 50 times before she reached 10 months old! Olaf and Suzanna love to travel and having a child doesn’t slow them down. After introducing us to his family, Olaf took us out in his boat – not to look for puffins, as he knew there were no puffins in the area anymore ☺ – but to give us a tour of the many islands that comprise Røst.


The village of Reine.

On Saturday, we traveled from Røst back to Leknes via airplane and then made a 45-minute drive south to the village of Reine, the administrative center of Moskenes municipality and a commercial center since 1743. Approximately 350 people live in this beautiful, small village that is surrounded by striking vertical peaks and a crystal-clear harbor on one side and the vast Norwegian Sea on the other side.

Although fishing and whaling are major economic forces in Reine, tourism has fast become an important focus as tens of thousands of people from around the world visit the village annually. Allers, the largest weekly magazine in Norway, selected Reine as the most beautiful village in Norway in the late 1970s. Today, this distinction continues to draw in tourists during all seasons.

After a quick lunch in a local Reine café, we parked our car off the main highway, packed up the camera gear and water bottles, and hiked down the road to the base of the Reinebringen. The Reinebringen (400 meters, about 1,000 feet) is a picturesque mountain just a few minutes from the main Reine village. It is accessible by a once-described “secret” passage (that is not so “secret” anymore as there are arrows on the pavement leading you to the trailhead) hidden in the bushes. Once we found the passage, we climbed up a dried riverbed and began hiking the seemingly endless array of steep switchbacks.

Justin atop the Reinebringen, looking down over Reine.

The view from the trail was breathtaking as you can immediately see the minuscule curving highway below dwarfed by the grandeur of the Norwegian Sea. The terrain followed an exponential curve of steepness as we hiked toward the summit. Approximately three-quarters of the way up the mountain LTML’s resident climbing specialist, Justin, continued on while Aaron and Charlie stopped to relax. You are not awarded with the grand view overlooking the village of Reine until you reach the summit. Justin was able to capture some truly awe-inspiring landscape photographs from his journey to the top.


After our descent down the mountain, we arrived back at our car and took a short break. Next to our car an elderly man by the name of Andrew began setting up his paintings of Reine against the guardrail where many tourists photograph the famous view.

Charlie and Aaron pose with Andrew, a local painter in Reine.

After discussing his paintings with us, we interviewed Andrew on his thoughts about the region and how education connects to his work. Once a primary school teacher, he believed that his education provided him with the opportunity to travel the world and experience the many landscapes that inspire his paintings every day.

Although we never saw or photographed a puffin, the past few days have been filled with rich adventures and conversations. The island of Røst and the community of Reine are truly magical places. From stockfish to puffins to majestic mountains, these islands will never be forgotten. A heartfelt thank you to both communities and all the people we were fortunate enough to speak with during our short stay. We appreciated your insights, humor, and generosity. Your contributions to the Earthducation project are greatly valued.

Have YOU contributed to Earthducation yet? What are your thoughts on the intersections or disconnections between education and sustainability in your life?

View the complete photo gallery for this leg of the trip.

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