Deep into the arctic terrain of Northern Norway, a fjord with sharp black mountains falling steeply to the sea can be found. Along with a narrow entrance and a mysterious scenery, the fjord – Trollfjorden – is named after “Troll”, a figure from Norse mythology. The fairytale-like fjord not only looks like a place taken out from a Viking Saga, but it’s also the place where the battle of Trollfjorden took place, also called The Last of the Vikings.*
It’s an early spring morning, the 6th of March, 1890. Hundreds of fishermen have gathered around the inlet of the fjord, ready to claim their right of the arctic cod that’s lurking inside. But they can’t get inside. Several steamship owners have chained their boats together, blocking the entrance of the fjord. Being shut outside, the small boat owners soon turn into a rage. What could lead to such a conflict?
The night before, representatives of the traditional rowing boats asked the steamboats to help break up the ice that Trollfjorden was coated with so that the fishermen could come the next day. The steamboats did this, but instead of opening up to the fishermen, they closed the innermost part of the fjord. They then demanded payment from the fishermen to let them in. The fishermen would not accept this and thought they violated allemannsretten – “the right to roam.” After a short and heated battle – including being flushed with scalding hot water from the steam boilers – the fishermen are able to break the barrier. They finally have a free road ahead to continue their seasonal fishing.
The battle was in many ways a culmination of a longer conflict between both parts. Since the beginning of the 19th century, a group of privileged merchants – Nessekonger – (literally called “peninsula king”) gained monopoly over the fishery, enjoying a dominant economical position. As the number of common fishermen grew along with new liberal and democratic ideas, the opposition to this system arose. More tension grew when new and younger fishermen struggled to gain access to good fishing grounds, as this was reserved for those with access to the fisherman’s cabins and many seasons behind them.
With over 30.000 fishermen attending the seasonal fishery in the late 1800s, confrontations often became a daily event. The fishermen had to compete with steamships catching large quantities of fish using modern equipment such as fishing nets and trawls. The battle in Trollfjorden led to a lively discussion and mobilized large parts of the coastal population. A new law was eventually put into stone, banning the use of modern fishing equipment during cod season. The fishermen were also allowed to get more involved in how the fishery was to be carried out. This system has worked all the way up to the 2000s, gaining worldwide recognition. Social scientists from other countries have studied the system to implement similar legislation in their own fisheries.
*The battle received its popular name after Norwegian author Johan Bojer described the battle in his novel with the same name, published in 1921.
Source: Nordland County Encyclopedia
Painting by Gunnar Berg