As you take a boat out to the fringes of this forgotten land, gliding past enormous gouged cliffs with sheep nestled in the most precarious places, you’ll see the flicker of salmon jumping within huge nets.
Their sheer quantity points to how the fish population in the Faroe Islands is actually one of the remarkably diverse and abundant in the world, thanks to a warm jet from the Gulf Stream that flows straight into the incredibly clean and unpolluted icy waters.
The Faroes has a spectacular wealth of fish and the biggest fish you can get on a rod is the porbeagle shark. These sharks travel around the islands all year and in winter they live close to the shore, which makes them easy to catch.
For this interview, we met up with Captain Magni Blástein, one of the most skilled fishermen of the Faroes. We asked him about the centrality of fishing in Faroese culture, the importance of family knowledge and of passing on traditions to ensure they continue to thrive.
The importance of family knowledge in the Faroes
Captain Blástein has a favourite spot to scour the oceans, about a 30-minute boat ride from Vestmanna. The location is particularly abundant with fish, but you won’t find any details about it in your typical guidebook. The local secret was passed down through family knowledge.
“I was taught to fish by my father, it was tradition”, Captain Blástein tells Culture Trip. “I was a young kid when I got my first catch, no more than six or seven years old.” Blástein is now keen to pass on the tradition to his own family. “I’ve taken my kids out fishing, they love catching fish, especially my daughter.”
He started teaching his children how to catch fish from the tender age of four and sees this effort as vital to ensuring that the tradition continues to thrive, as of course, they don’t teach fishing in schools. “Fishing is not dying out, it’s still thriving. It’s kept well alive by teaching kids how to fish.”
Technology doesn’t triumph over tradition
While you may think that the latest technologies find the solution to everything, this is not necessarily the case in fishing. Captain Blástein is a firm believer that simpler traditional techniques triumph over technology every time. “It’s not actually easier to fish with high tech gear. I like to keep it simple”, he says.
Specifically, Captain Blástein teaches us an ancient technique of troubling the seafloor, stirring up the sand until the fish become curious and come to see what all the fuss is about. “You let your line drop as fast as possible, keeping your thumb on the reel. It takes a little while but you can feel when it hits the bottom”, he insists.
“The trick is to keep bouncing on the bottom to keep the line alive. That’s the most important thing. You make some noise on the bottom of the sand to attract the fish.” As he points out, he can actually see the fish on his fish finder, which proves that this technique works.
Captain Blástein appreciates the fact that this traditional method requires more effort, especially on the arms. It makes the catch feel all the more rewarding when it’s caught by sheer persistence. “It takes the fun out of it if it’s too easy,” he says. “Fishing is seldom easy, it’s all about the searching.”
As the enormous fish from his record catches show, these simpler and more traditional techniques never fail. He also says that high-tech gear is difficult for kids as it’s so heavy, but if you start with a rod, it’s easier and, therefore, more likely to keep them interested.
One of his greatest achievements is his catch of June 17, 2012, off the coast of Vestmanna. The weight of the beast was 80kg with an impressive 186cm length and, due to overfishing of the halibut, Blástein says they are caught once every blue moon.
The ancient Nordic tradition of wind-drying fish
The Faroe Islands has been perfecting a unique Nordic tradition of wind-drying fish over cliffs during the past few centuries, a tradition which Captain Blástein is particularly keen to conserve.
“Traditionally, you clean the fish and then hang them up for four weeks in the winter,” says Captain Blástein. “In the Faroes, the humidity in the air is perfect for fermentation.” He also points out how many of the houses over here are equipped with an annex that lets the wind pass through to help dry them.
“The Faroese are really conscious about the quality of food. I ferment my food every year. It might not be the normal thing to do but it really enhances the taste.”
Fishing is entwined with a sense of community
In the Faroes, there’s an annual fishing festival in Klaksvík that brings the whole community together. They have a live display of 15–20 species of fish and serve the most delicious specimens, as well as a host of fun events like fisherman’s knot-tying competitions.
Captain Blástein says that he has enjoyed attending a few times and can vouch for it being a fantastic family day out, with a convivial ambiance that proves the centrality of fish to the local culture. It’s also a chance for locals to revel in their mutual love for the sea.
“I just love fishing, it’s part of my life. What’s great is that you never have two similar days. Every day, you see something new and experience something different – it’s a challenge. You get to see all the bird life as well. It’s nice to be close to nature. It’s a great job.”
Embracing the increasing demand for tourism, Captain Blástein started a charter business in 2004 to arrange fishing trips from his 12-man boat. These trips run every day during the main season from May to November and you can find out more here.
It’s open to beginners as well as experts and he supplies all the gear, such as flotation suits and boots. Tourists love his trips as you can catch record-size plaice, which you can’t find elsewhere.
If you’re visiting the Faroes for the first time to take a fishing trip with Captain Blástein, then we’d highly recommend staying at Hotel Foroyar. This gorgeous four-star hotel is tucked away on top of a hill in Tórshavn, with the rolling hills, quaint fishing harbour and atmospheric fog lending the venue a mystical feel.
As you’ll notice, the roof is curiously lined with grass, a typical stylistic trait of the Faroe Islands that makes its architecture look simply adorable. And what’s great is that the rugged local landscape you can see from the window offers an enticing excuse to head for a hike, whatever the weather.