Salmon Farming in Norway

Take a look at a day in the life of a Norwegian salmon farmer, and all she has to know to do a good job.


| April 2016



Farm

Domesticated salmon are kept in netted enclosures to keep them separate from their wild cousins on this Norwegian salmon farm.

Photo by Fotolia/mikhailg

Read about jobs and professions around the world in Ilana Gershon’s A World of Work (Cornell University Press, 2015). Gershon takes a playful look at the everyday work lives of ballerinas in London, doctors in Malawi, magicians in Paris and more, opening the job market to people who are undecided in their career paths or feel constrained in their choices. The following excerpt is on salmon farming in Norway.

To find more books that pique our interest, visit the Utne Reader Bookshelf.

Spearheading the so-called Blue Revolution, Atlantic salmon have recently been domesticated on a massive scale. In just a few decades, they have become husbandry animals. More than 95 percent of the world’s Atlantic salmon alive today has been raised on a fish farm. But even so, they are still in many ways “newcomers to the farm.” Norway has taken a lead role in the industrial domestication of salmon. Here, salmon farms are often locally owned, and aquaculture provides an important source of employment in remote coastal villages, where a traditional livelihood has generally relied on a combination of fishing and small-scale farming. Today, the reliance on fish farming has increased. With a production of more than a million tons of farmed salmon per year, Norway is the largest producer of farmed salmon worldwide. But Norway is also home to the largest remaining population of wild Atlantic salmon. Accommodating both farmed and wild salmon in the same waterways is a difficult balancing act that involves protective measures of many kinds. In this chapter we trace the workday of a salmon farmer in West Norway.

In the dark the car drives itself. Three minutes, down the hill, carefully because the road’s icy. The parking lot is brilliantly lit. I pull on my woolly cap and step out of the car. A chilly wind is cutting around the corner of the warehouse as I bang the door shut behind me and walk into the workshop. They’re there already, three of them. Sitting. Standing. No one is talking. It’s too early. Too dark. Now the manager arrives. There are brief greetings. “God morgen” (Good morning). It’s all very informal. It’s quiet. It’s Norway. Rural West Coast Norway. Everyone knows, or is related to, everyone else. You know where they come from, and you have to get along. But you don’t need to talk much. Especially not in the morning.

So what’s on the agenda for today? Well, says the foreman, the vet’s visiting. She will lead a workshop on fish welfare, and some of us will need to sign up for that. It’s mandatory now. And then the nets need to be rotated. We need to do that today. As we do endlessly. Net rotating. “Tromling.” And then there is a new apprentice this week. Vidar. A lean young man, shy among his new workmates, barely 18. He is assigned to me. Otherwise, well, nothing special. Just the usual things. I’ll come out, says the foreman, around lunchtime.

Okay, it’s time to move. I pick up one of the lights, a big hefty underwater lamp, and we walk out into the dark in a procession. It’s a hundred and fifty feet down the quay to the motor boat, it’s bitterly cold and still dark out. The boy, Vidar, undoes the mooring ropes while I lift the engine canopy and put the fuel on. Thank goodness, he knows how to pilot boats in the dark and needs only minimal instructions. I dive into the cabin, fumble the key into the ignition, and start the motor. Soon the engine coughs and bursts into life. Vidar releases the last of the ropes as I put the boat into reverse. Now we’re both in the cabin with the door shut. I back the boat away from its mooring, turn the rudder, put the engine into forward gear and we’re off. Around the end of the jetty I take us, slowly, and then I head directly for the farm. Barely visible, it’s out there in the middle of the fjord, but the boat knows the way. I push the throttle forward and sit down on the swivel chair. We’re banging along now, against the waves in the choppy water. And dawn is just beginning to break, a distant blue beyond the mountains to the east.