“Sure, I used to get seasick. But it stopped after about three years of fishing,” Daniel Lauritzen says with a dry laugh. In Kjøllefjord, a small fishing village at the very top of Norway's northernmost county, Lauritzen and his partner, Aidas Kaminskas, are heading out to sea to set their baited longlines for tomorrow's haul. It's early October and the autumn fishing season has just started.
It's an odd time to be in Finnmark; late enough for sunlight to be in short supply, yet too early for snow. The view from the deck of Tinder, Lauritzen's 11-metre-long, top modern fishing boat – ”Tinder” being the Norwegian word for "mountain peaks", not the infamous dating app – is one of complete darkness. As the boat slowly sails out of the harbour, waves from the cold Barents Sea gradually begin to make themselves known. Soon, Tinder is bobbing rhythmically up and down. On the aft deck, expertly hand-baited longlines with 400 hooks are poised to tempt cod, haddock and Atlantic halibut. Soon, Tinder comes to a halt.
Lauritzen and Kaminskas immediately get to work, placing their lines with efficient ease. In the morning, they will return to pull in the catch carefully, one fish at a time, ensuring that their haul meets the absolute highest quality standards. “You never know what you're going to get,” Lauritzen says with a smile as the last flag buoy leaves the boat and floats into the darkness. “That's the beauty of it.”
From side-gig to certified quality
Like many locals this far north, Daniel Lauritzen's father is also a fisherman. Still, it was not a given that Daniel would also become one. As a youth, he went to vocational school to train as a car mechanic.Today, Lauritzen fishes all year round, pausing only in the summer months. Building on centuries of Norwegian tradition, Lauritzen has chosen to rig Tinder exclusively for longline fishing. Longlining is generally considered labour-intensive and time-consuming. Accurate as this may be, fishermen like Lauritzen see the positives of fishing this way outweighing the drawbacks.
“Line-caught fish is generally top quality. You haul one fish at a time, and this gives you more control,” Daniel says. His hard efforts do not go unnoticed. In 2021, Lauritzen won the Norwegian fish and seafood sales organisation's Quality Fisherman of the Year award, a recognition of Tinder’s relentless focus on quality.
There's more to it than just fish
To Lauritzen, longline fishing is not just about delivering high-quality fish. There's more to it. Since longline boats fish throughout the year, they also provide raw materials to the local fish processing plant all year round, creating a demand for local workers. As boats like Tinder fish close to shore, their carbon footprints are smaller. Longlines also make it possible to fish more discriminately for the desired catch, and the technique leaves the sea bottom largely untouched.
“What can I say? It works for me. I'm no economist, but as long as we have money in our accounts, I'm happy”, Lauritzen says. And if you are to judge by the demand, he is doing something right. “Line-caught Norwegian fish, especially cod, is in high demand in Europe. Even during the pandemic, we barely noticed a drop in demand. Aidas and I were out fishing like we always do,” Lauritzen says.
One fish at a time
The following morning, as darkness turns to twilight, Daniel Lauritzen steers Tinder out to sea again. The wind from last night shows no signs of abating, and the waves look set to grow ever larger later the same morning—time to haul in the lines from the previous night and get back to shore as fast as possible. After a few minutes, Lauritzen squints into the waves in front of the boat, trying to spot the flags marking his lines.
“There we have the first one,” he cheers, pointing at a neon-coloured flag buoy bobbing in the distance. Soon, Kaminskas snags the flag and quickly pulls it onto the boat, connecting the line to the ship's electric puller. “Looks like there's a lot of fish here,” Lauritzen says, looking at the echo-location panel in front of him.
Gently does it
Seconds later, the first hooks are drawn carefully out of the ocean. Lauritzen stands by the railing, constantly monitoring the fish lines, guiding the catch gently onto the awaiting tanks as it's pulled out of the ice-cold water. First some haddock, then some large cusk, and finally, bright arctic cod emerge from the sea, one after the other.
“Wow, that's a nice one,” Lauritzen says, smiling as he carefully removes the hook and holds one of the fish up for Kaminskas to see. His partner nods in agreement before the operation continues, as the two men work briskly and in silence, eager to beat the storm. They swiftly bleed and sort the fish into containers full of ice, ready to be processed once Tinder returns to shore. As the last hooks draw slowly into the boat, the snow-white underside of a sizable halibut emerges gradually from the deep. The small crew is visibly pleased; a good morning just became extraordinary.
From sea floor to shop shelf
With all lines hauled in, Tinder sets its course towards the local fish processing plant in Kjøllefjord, opposite the harbour. Cruising in, Lauritzen picks up his phone and calls the plant, letting them know that Tinder will soon be dropping off today's catch. They know him well. After all, this is the only place he has ever delivered fish. Ever since Lauritzen started in 2005, his trips have always ended here. He contentedly lists the breadth of today's catch—cod, haddock, cusk and Atlantic halibut. As Tinder steadily approaches the plant, the team stands ready to lift the catch out of Tinder to expertly process and send it off to European markets as quickly as possible. Lauritzen goes and gets his helmet from behind a hanger as the boat nears the quay. He stops for a second and looks at the three-person team waiting for him, ready to handle containers of fish no more than an hour out of the water. “This is what I always say: We would never deliver anything that we wouldn't happily eat ourselves,” Lauritzen says against the radio's static as he steps out onto the deck.
“And we never do, either.”