The human history of Lofoten is essentially that of its fishing industry. Numerous battles have been fought over these seas, exceptionally rich in spawning cod ever since the glaciers retreated about 10,000 years ago. In 1120 King Øystein set up the first church and built a number of rorbuer, basic 4m by 4m wooden cabins for the fisherfolk with a fireplace, earthen floor and small porch area. It wasn't entirely philanthropy: in so doing, he took control of the local economy and ensured rich tax pickings for himself.

In the early 19th century power over the trade fell to local nessekonger (merchant squires) who'd bought up property. These new landlords forced the tenants of their rorbuer to deliver their entire catch at a price set by the landlords themselves. The Lofoten Act of 1857 greatly diminished the power of the nessekonger but it was not until the Raw Fish Sales Act of 1936 that they lost the power to set prices.