It has been a bit of a crash course in Norwegian fisheries – I’d read a lot before coming here, but just walking down the corridors here and talking with people has opened up a whole slew of new issues (negotiations with Russia over the Barents Sea fishery, the tension between the northern and southern parts of the country, the difficulties of maintaining the rural coastal settlements as fishing becomes a less attractive profession, the effects of quota-driven reductions in the number of fishermen on community structure in coastal areas, issues of special rights for the Sami aboriginal group mostly known for reindeer herding but also seasonally dependent on fishing in fjords in the northernmost province of Finnmark). Unlike Denmark, there are still whole regions of Norway that are largely dependent on fisheries, and unlike Iceland, those regions are still largely organized around the coastal fishing fleet rather than industrial-scale trawlers. With less than a week here, I don’t think I’ll have the chance to get any deeper into the actual life of the fishery here than discussions with the social scientists and biologists and the regional fisheries directorate (the government administrative arm), but I feel like I at least have a general overview of the main issues in Norway.
Even though I haven’t been able to directly experience the fisheries themselves, however, being in Tromsø has definitely introduced me to the experience of a northern Norwegian winter. Located at 69°40′N, Tromsø is experiencing a true Arctic winter – the sun does not come above the horizon again until sometime near the end of January.
This does not mean that there is no light at all here: there are a few hours of twilight in the middle of the day, which is enough light to see by for a few hours. The light quality is also fantastic – all the pinks and oranges and blues of a gorgeous sunrise (coming more from the south than from the east or west) over the tops of the mountains.
The climate here is not as cold as you probably imagine when you think of the Arctic – since Tromsø (and indeed pretty much all of northern Norway, which is a very thin strip of land) is on the coast and this side of the Atlantic is warmed by the Gulf Stream (the reason Europe isn’t as cold as northern Canada), the temperature remains just around freezing. It doesn’t actually feel any colder than the winters I’m used to from home – the main difference, though, is that there is an admirable snow cover everywhere since the temperatures don’t rise enough for the snow to melt. This is a definite improvement over northern Denmark’s wind and rain, and I am actually rather enjoying the weather.
I've spent a lot of time outside walking through the snowy paths and roads, but haven’t had the chance to enjoy the snow properly, like the school children here who get to go sledding every day during the period of light in the middle of the day, or for older students, go cross-country skiing through the woods.
Since there’s so little light, it’s important that everyone, but kids in particular, get to go outside while it’s light out in the middle of the day.
I’m only here until Monday morning, when I head back to Denmark for another few weeks, but I really wish I had planned to spend more time in Norway (I am considering how I might be able to come back here for longer later in the year…more on that later if it pans out). For now, though, I’m glad I decided to come here – not just for the fish or because I can now say I’ve been to the Arctic, but because it’s absolutely gorgeous. I couldn't have picked a better place to spend Chanukah (the buildings on the right are where I've been living, and lighting my Chanukah candles, this week).
*Technically, in fact, Tromsø is not considered to experience polar night because of the amount of twilight light in the middle of the day. But since I’ve never gone more than 24 hours before without actually being able to see the sun in the sky (and I may never get far enough north to actually experience official polar night), this feels momentous enough for me to consider polar night.