The Skrei fishery

For centuries, arctic cod has been the most valuable species of fish for the people of North Norway, and the winter cod fishery from January to April is the most important seasonal fishery in all of Norway. It is important to distinguish between coastal cod and «skrei». When the Arctic cod set out on their annual migration to spawn along the northern coast of Norway, the fish is called skrei – a word that actually means «to wander», from the Old Norse «skrida».

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Spawning placesHistorically speaking, nearly half the skrei shoals have migrated to the areas around Lofoten to spawn. But as a result of rising temperatures in the ocean during recent years, the increasing trend is that the skrei stop further north. This new migration pattern is a definite boon to Vesterålen fishermen. The fishing grounds off the coast from Andøy, Øksnes and Bø – 400 km north of the Arctic Circle – have become an Eldorado and Klondyke for skrei fishermen!

For professional fishermen, the winter season at sea is synonymous with skrei fishing. And with modern, advanced boats and equipment, amateur fishermen have also been able to participate in the quest for this prima quality fish,  because what’s special about this species is that one does not have to go far out to sea; skrei can be caught in fjords and close to land.

Even the uninitiated tourist fisherman will have to try hard not to catch fish on an ocean outing – whether this be as a «hired hand» aboard a professional fishing boat, or aboard one’s own hired boat with an outboard motor and an echo sounder. The opportunity to hire 18-foot boats has gradually become more and more commonplace. In addition, you can spend the night in tradional-style rorbu cabins, and prepare fish dinners you will not find in every restaurant – we call it «møljekalas», meaning poached fresh skrei, with cod liver and roe …

Mølje (Poached skrei, liver and roe)For people along the Norwegian coast, the first «møljekalas» (skrei feast) is the gastronomic highpoint of winter – a culinary banquet to which some have almost religious associations. Skrei feasts are not only traditional dining; they are festivities! 

The traditional North Norwegian way of preparing skrei is simple: fish, liver and roe are steeped in separate cooking pots filled with boiling hot, lightly salted water. The proportion is at least two tbs salt per liter of water for poached cod, liver and roe. The liver and roe should simmer for a few minutes, while the fish must only steep in the water – never bring it to the boil! Serve with boiled carrots, potatoes and flatbrød (wafer crisps). Beverage of choice. Voilà: your skrei feast is served!

Deep sea- and fjord fishing Most people are familiar with light angling from small leisure boats along the shoreline skerries and fjords. Deep sea fishing, on the other hand, done from oceangoing vessels, is normally the domain of local fishing boats operated by experienced skippers. Deep sea fishing at great depths normally requires industrial equipment. For skrei fishing on the open ocean, it is recommended to use short, strong rods, reels with 200 meter line, jigs and lead sinkers that can weigh as much as 1000 grams. Weights and jigs must be so heavy that they sink to the bottom quickly without drifting away from or underneath the boat. It is normal to use one or more hooks. If you want to use bait, mackerel or herring is recommended.