On one of his many travels across Norway, document photographer Anders Beer Wilse (1865 – 1949) captured in 1910 the buzzing life of commercial fishing in Lofoten and preserved it for posterity. This was at a time when the small open wooden boats still were used for fishing and the profession was done the traditional way.
Being a fisherman back then meant hard, unsafe and at times extremely dangerous work, dependent on the unpredictable forces of nature, the wind, the weather and the size of the catch. Dependable crew, skills and equipment was crucial, but not always enough. It was also important to have contact with higher powers. Throughout the ages, many beliefs and customs have been tied to fishing. Throwing liquor overboard was an offering that would secure a good catch. To wish the fisherman good luck or to express hopes for a good catch was a bad ting giving bad luck. Evil shall drive away evil, is a Norwegian saying, and still today Norwegians say “skitt fiske”, meaning “I hope you don’t catch anything”. Other ways to wish a fisherman good luck was to cuss and swear, spit, or throw something at him, such as a rag, a shoe or a broomstick.
Dependable equipment was vital. This required daily maintenance of nets and other fishing tools.