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Fisherman’s Fat

Ask IR

Fisherman’s Fat

fishermen at work

Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

Q: I am looking for the old type of fat fisherman used for making their clothing and boots waterproof. Where might I acquire it? I might need about 5 kg (11 lbs), only for myself.

Viljami Vörös, Finland

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A: According to curator at the Ósvör Maritime Museum in Bolungarvík, the West Fjords, fishermen used to grease their clothing with, lýsi, or fish liver oil, to make it waterproof.

In Iceland fishermen used to store livers in a container or in a hole in the ground outside their homes. With time the livers released the oil, as described on the website of True Westfjords in Bolungarvík, which is about to launch production of traditional cod liver oil.

People consumed the oil because of its health benefits—and still do—but it also had other purposes; apart from greasing clothing, it was used for lighting in special lamps called lýsislampi.

The best quality oil was used for consumption but the refuse or grútur for other purposes.

Today, the curators at Ósvör grease their traditional fishermen’s clothing with mink oil or conventional leather fat.

You should be able to acquire these in stores in Finland. If you would like to try the old-fashioned method, fish liver oil should be available in Finland too, look out for the Icelandic brand Lysi, which exports its products to many countries.