Grímsey is the northernmost outpost of the Akureyri municipality and Iceland’s northernmost inhabited island. Iceland Review traveled there at the brightest time of year to learn more about fishing—the island’s livelihood—and life on the Arctic Circle.
Published in the 2013 August-September issue of Iceland Review – IR 04.13. By Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. Photos by Páll Stefánsson.
It’s 4:30 am and two hours have already passed since the first fishermen left the Grímsey harbor for the fertile fishing grounds off Iceland’s northernmost inhabited island. However, in this location at this time of year—right on the Arctic Circle in late June—the middle of the night feels like high noon. This is a blessing, according to fisherman and fishing company owner Svafar Gylfason. “It’s much harder to wake up so early in winter when you only catch a little glimpse of daylight between 12 and 2 pm.” Even though he has been in the profession since his teens, Svafar admits that in rough seas in the darkest hours of winter, he still gets seasick. “This is about as good as it gets,” he says in reference to the current height of waves. Yet it neither keeps the landlubber onboard from feeling sick, nor Svafar’s 16-year-old son, who is learning the trade. “Ingólfur Bjarni!” exclaims Svafar teasingly when the former dis creetly leans over the gunwale to relieve himself of his breakfast.
Konráð, a ten-ton fiberglass boat named after Svafar’s deceased triplet brother, is the smallest of the four-vessel fleet of Sigurbjörn, the company Svafar runs with the third triplet Bjarni Gylfason, their father and two friends. Svafar and Ingólfur balance with ease across the rolling deck while hauling in cod, redfish and saithe fooled by the rubber-covered hooks of the four automatic hand lines. But today, pickings are slim and while Ingólfur toils in his orange coveralls—“the best thing about bringing the boy is that I can let him do all the work,” Svafar jokes—he monitors a screen showing the ocean floor and schools of fish, relocating the boat as soon as they stop biting. Given the meager catch, Svafar is expecting a long day. “I guess it’s like any other job: it’s fun when everything’s going swell and boring when there’s not much to do.” His mood brightens a little when a massive 20 kg (44 lbs) cod is hauled onto the deck. “I wouldn’t have to spend many hours at sea if all the fish were that big,” he comments.
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