If you live in the remote Western Fjords of Iceland, you have to be imaginative about how you reel in visitors and their spending money. That’s where fish hooks come in useful as we found out when we visited the Fisherman Fishing Village Project in Sudureyri….
The Fisherman Fishing Village – at Sudureyri
In Sudureyri the wind gently blows on coloured bunting as the tide washes onto the rocks, kids climb on a ship in the playground and little tractors full of fish heads trundle down the street.
Yes fish heads. Apparently there’s a roaring trade for them in Nigeria. Quite how a remote village in Western Iceland ever discovered that people in Africa could make good use of their unwanted fish heads is anyone’s guess. But anyway, only hours after the morning catch, the heads are efficiently removed in one factory, before being boxed up and transported across the village to another, where they are prepared for export to Nigeria.
There’s a factory for processing fish heads?
Sure there is. Because this is Sudureyri, which claims to be Iceland’s most sustainable fishing village. A place where fish are caught using traditional methods like long lining, said to be less damaging to the marine environment, and where pride is taken in using almost every part of the fish, minimising waste. And when I say every part I mean every part; intestines are used to make ointments and cod liver oil while the skin is used to make animal food.
But while fish love to hang out in the fishing grounds near this attractive little village, the tourists haven’t always been so forthcoming. Despite rumours that Bjork buys her trinkets and clothes here, it’s not exactly the shopping capital of the world. Sudureyri is about as far away from Reykjavik as you can get in the Western Fjords, even with the 5km tunnel built to improve access. It’s no ordinary village and it’s no ordinary tunnel with its right angle junction deep underneath the mountain. So the good folks of Sudureyri got their heads together, spotted what they were good at, and came up with a tourism plan.
With fish heads at the centre?
Sadly there aren’t any tours of the fish head factory, otherwise we’d have been first in the queue. But you can visit the Íslandssaga fish processing plant where 70 local people are employed processing and shipping the fish. It’s where we begin our family fish pilgrimage, and a sunny morning finds us putting blue shower caps on our heads and feet, and following our guide Oddny, the Quality Control Manager, through a machine room and then along the cutting line. In a high tech system, the heads are removed and skin and bone are separated. The guts are taken out ready for disposal and the flesh is filleted. Today’s cod fillet is all being sent to the UK.
English fish from Sudureyri?
Yep. Only 36 hours after it is caught, the cod and haddock find their way to the shelves of Sainsbury’s. It’s a strange feeling standing in a fish processing plant in a remote part of Iceland knowing the fish I’m looking at may soon be on the fish counter in my local Sainsbury’s in Lancaster.
I thought fish were friends not food?
Sorry, but fish and chips are the British national dish. Our family eats tons of the stuff. And today alone 17 tons of it is being processed at this factory. It’s not like I expect a fish factory to look. It’s all bright lights, gleaming surfaces, and women with the concentration of surgeons slicing into fish on illuminated chopping boards. It’s also as cold as a fridge. In fact part of it is a giant freezer. But the factory will turn up the heat later on, cooking up two huge catfish for a party in the centre of the village to celebrate the beginning of a solo performance drama festival, Act Alone.
So there’s more to this village than fish?
Yes, although many residents seem to wear two hats; one regular and one fish based. We tour the village with Ársæll Níelsson, one of the actors in the festival who also manages the Fisherman Hotel. He paints a picture of a small, remote community, with a clutch of people who wondered how they could put themselves on the map. The answer lay in the sea and under the earth. The village is lucky to be able to produce all its own heat and power from geothermal and hydroelectric sources. The fishing grounds are close to shore, so little fuel is used to get to them and fishing is done with traditional rods and lines to minimise negative impacts. And the eco tag worked; tourists now come. Fish are the villages past and are central to their plans for the future.
So what can a fish loving tourist do around here then?
Let’s not blow it all out of proportion. This is a small working village in the Western Fjords of Iceland, so if you’re looking for Sea World you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re happy to have a low key, local experience, then it’s all here. You can catch your dinner on a sea angling trip, and cook it with the help of a local family. You can go out with a working fishing boat. You can tour the factory and the village like us. Or you can buy a bag of fish and go feed the cod in the lagoon. Or fish them out using it as bait.
Feed fish to the fish? Isn’t that a bit…well…cannibal?
The fish don’t seem to mind. In fact, they almost bit our hands off for a snack. It is great fun to watch cod dive and leap, and all for the price of a coffee. But while the boys are sort of happy to see the cod lying dead in buckets of ice in the factory, the sheer size and power of them in the water freaks them out.
I imagine there’s a fishy end to this tale?
Of course there is. The catfish at the party. And drinks in the Fisherman’s hotel afterwards. But the kids aren’t sure about the buffet meal. “I’m just having the chips,” says Cameron, warily, in case anything snaps at his fingers again.
This post is part of our 2012 Adventure Islands Season. We’re spending summer 2012 crossing Northern Europe by car and ferry to visit Iceland and The Faroes. We’re exploring the wilder parts of these adventure islands on mini biking expeditions, and researching and reporting on other attractions and activities on offer to adventure seeking families as we tour other parts of the islands by car. We’re grateful to DFDS Seaways and Smyril Line for their support in getting us and our vehicle to Europe and onto Iceland and The Faroes, enabling us to bring you this season of posts. And to Berghaus and Thule who have helped equip us for the journey.
You can follow our progress LIVE on The Family Adventure Project Punkt and get some exclusive behind the scenes photos and video of our journey.