Iceland’s Herring Adventure

Photo: Þjóðminjasafnið

One of the many curious eras in the history of Iceland is The Herring Era. As you might know fishing is a very important industry in Iceland and it was even more so in the past. At the dawn of the 20th century the country was introduced to new technology around fisheries. This made extensive herring fisheries possible and salted herring from Iceland was shipped to many European countries. The oil and meal was also put to use for food and making of soaps.

In 1911 the first processing plant was built in Siglufjörður, a small town in the North and around 1950 a new and more efficient fishing technology making it possible to fish even more than before. The towns that had herring flourished and Siglufjörður was the town that felt the influence of the herring era the most. Flocks of people rushed to the small town to take part in the adventure and to hope to earn some money. What once was a tiny town with very few inhabitants suddenly had a population of thee thousand people.

People lived together in small houses and worked the whole day, sometimes they even slept while standing by their work stations. Everyone was involved and even children took part. Songs like the one below gained popularity and the era truly made its mark on many small towns around the country, even though Siglufjörður arguably was most affected by it.

In 1969 the herring suddenly didn’t show up and it is only in the recent years that the herring population has recovered. It really is a fascinating story and we highly recommend visiting the Herring Era Museum if in Iceland if you want to understand it in more detail.

The photos below come from Þjóðminjasafnið and they capture the true vibrancy of the era.

Source: The Herring Era Museum