Glory Be to Cod

For centuries, catching and drying cod has been a way of life in Lofoten and by far its biggest industry.

Although cod populations have been depleted by overfishing, the overall catch is still substantial: an estimated 50,000 tonnes annually (30,000 tonnes without the heads). The fishing season peaks between January and April when the fish swim round from the Barents Sea to Vestfjorden to spawn.

There are two ways to preserve cod. For saltfish, it's filleted, salted and dried for about three weeks. For klipfish, the saltfish is cleaned, resalted and dried, originally on cliffs (klipp in Norwegian) and nowadays in large heated plants.

However, Lofoten is all about stockfish. In this ancient method, 15,000 tonnes of fish are decapitated each year, paired by size, then tied together and, dangling in pairs like sleeping bats, hung to dry over the huge wooden A-frames you see everywhere on the islands. The fish lose about 80% of their weight, and most are exported to Italy, with some to Spain and Portugal.

Stockfish stays edible for years, and it's often eaten raw (a trifle chewy but goes well with beer), salted or reconstituted with water. It's concentrated goodness; with a protein content of 80%, 1kg of stockfish has the same nutritional value as 5kg of fresh fish.

Then there's the liver, which produces cod-liver oil, rich in vitamin D that has long been known to prevent rickets and assuage the depression brought on by the long, dark Arctic winters. In 1854 Lofoten pharmacist Peter Møller decided to introduce this magic-in-a-bottle to the world and constructed a cauldron for steam-boiling the livers. And to this day, studies show that cod-liver oil is rich in vitamins A and D, plus omega-3 fatty acids, and is good for your heart and blood circulation, eyesight, skin, bone development and brain.

One final thing: one reason why many in Lofoten oppose Norway's bid to join the EU – if an EU member, Norway would be powerless to stop Spanish fishing fleets and others fishing in Norway's inshore waters.