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Blossi

There lives a family in Flateyri who, in many respects, exemplifies the traditional small entrepreneurial fishing enterprise, which have become fewer and fewer in Iceland in recent years. Their business began back in 1978 when Einar Guðbjartsson and his wife Guðrún Pálsdóttir, rented a small wooden boat, Hringur ÍS 305, which currently stands near the family's drying shed in Flateyri. At that time, Einar used to go out to sea, mostly on his own though sometimes with help from Guðrún.
 
Photos courtesy of Guđrún Pálsdóttir
Photos courtesy of Guđrún Pálsdóttir
In 1980 they boat their first boat, Már ÍS 242. At that time their eldest son Kristján, then 12, started joining them out at sea. Már they used for nineteen years until they bought their present boat, Blossi ÍS 125, in 1999. With the purchase of Blossi, their youngest son Birkir joined the family business, and became captain of the ship. Birkir had been to navigational school in Dalvík in the years prior, and then worked on the trawler Páll Pálsson, out of Ísafjörður for a year before taking over Blossi.

Currently, the family's fishing business has several branches, which makes it possible to maintain year-round work. During the fall, winter, and spring months, Blossi operates as a commercial fishing vessel captained by Birkir, who goes to sea with his younger sister, Steinunn.  Together they do long line fishing for cod, haddock, or ocean catfish, depending on the season. Departing early in the morning, they head to the fishing grounds where they lay out lines from 24 tubs, in all totaling 500 baited hooks (the hooks are spaced a meter apart). After the lines are laid, they wait for a couple of hours, and then begin the process of hauling the fish in. When the fish come on board, they are taken from the hooks, dispatched with a quick deep cut to the throat, and placed immediately on ice in the hull of the boat, thus keeping it as fresh as possible.

The catch may be destined for several places. On the one hand it is sold to the general market via auction, where many fishermen sell their catch. When I visited with the family in March, Guðrún and Einar showed me the on-line auction web site and how it worked. Essentially, the auction is organized by different types of fish, when and how it is caught, the weight of the catch, and how it is stored. Managers of processing plants around Iceland purchase fish in local waters, attempting to get it for the lowest price.  The fishermen, in order to sell for the best possible price, do their best to get it to the plant while it is still fresh.

At times Blossi's catch goes to one of the plants in Ísafjörður, as well as being sold to the processing plant ‘Eyraroddi' in Flateyri.  Another branch of the family business is the processing and packaging of dried fish (harðfiskur). Einar runs this end of the business these days. They have a drying shed in Flateyri where they hang the fish to dry, and a small building where they cut and package the fish after it has been dried. The dried fish is then sold to local markets, shipped to buyers around Iceland, as well as overseas. The website may be visited at: www.blossi.net

In speaking with Guðrún, Birkir and Einar, it is clear that they are very proud of the product they provide. Guðrún explains to me that line fishing is quite advantageous for several reasons. Environmentally, it is a more sound practice than trawling, which tends to yield quite a bit of wastage. The product is also better, she explains. When you buy fish that has been line caught, the fish comes onto the boat individually and the meat is much better in flavor and color. When fish are brought onto a trawler they are pressed together from being hauled on in a large net. Many of the fish die this way, and the quality of the meat suffers.

During the summer, which is the off-season for commercial fishing, Blossi is used as a sea angling and tour boat. Birkir and his sister then take visitors out for fishing trips lasting from a couple of hours to a long day. Visitors on these trips can enjoy sea angling for a variety of types of fish, many of which are quite large. Visitors can also take tours of Önundarfjörður: www.blossi.net

While the family business has been running for more than thirty years, there is always some risk involved with the fishing business. Fishermen have, of course, always had to deal with the uncertainty of weather, and long spells can pass when they can't go to sea. In the past, there were also many shipwrecks where fishermen perished in bad weather. However, since the implementation of the quota system in the 1980s, better equipped boats through modern technology, and a more thorough education in the fishing business, there have been fewer shipwrecks-one can only catch so much fish, so there is less need to go to sea when the weather is bad.

However, this quota system has created its own set of risks and difficulties. Like all commercial fishermen, the owners of Blossi own quota which permits them to catch a certain tonnage of each type of fish annually, as determined by the Ministry of Fisheries. With the current economic crisis, the future of the quota system-how it will be administrated and who will own it-remains unknown. And this, the future for a small entrepreneurial enterprises like Blossi provides a different kind of uncertainty, which is to a great extent out of the control of the individual fisherman. However, Icelanders pride themselves on being resilient and flexible; thinking positively when circumstances are challenging and turning their hand to new ideas and opportunities.

More than a thousand words...

Vefumsjón