From Poverty to Abundance
The Maritime Museum’s permanent exhibition portrays the Icelandic fisheries at the turn of the 20th century, and realistically depicts the lives of Icelandic fishermen.
The Maritime Museum’s permanent exhibition From Poverty to Abundance portrays the Icelandic fisheries at the turn of the 20th century, and realistically depicts the lives of Icelandic fishermen. During this time, tenant fishermen resided in modest coastal cottages during the fishing season. On display is Farsæll, an original four-person rowboat built around 1900 in the Westman Islands.
From the time of Iceland's settlement over 1100 years ago, the fisheries have been vital for survival, and the fish a valuable export. In the late 19th century, fishing the coastal waters in rowboats was the most common method of commercial fishing.
For a long time, dried fish was the main export, but as the 19th century progressed, salted cod became an evermore important commodity. As the century drew to a close, exports of salted cod had quadrupled while its value had grown sixfold. This was result of increasing demand from Spain, technological advances, bigger fish markets and inexpensive, quality salt imported from Spain.
Rowboats began disappearing from Icelandic waters as the industrial revolution took root. Larger vessels such as decked boats and cutters, which could go further out to sea and fish larger hauls, were becoming more common. This created more work on land processing fish and servicing ships. The time of fishing smacks, while short, was an important part of maritime history.
The history of Iceland's fishery in the 20th century is full of technological advances and new methods of working. The first trawler owned by Icelanders arrived in Hafnarfjörður in 1905, a British steam-driven vessel built in 1892. One of Iceland´s most famous trawlers of the time, Jón forseti, arrived in 1907. Owned by Alliance Company it was the first trawler specially built for Iceland. In the following years, the fleet grew rapidly.
BÚR (Municipal Fishing Company) is also an important part of the museum’s exhibition – from 1947 until 1991, the company operated in the same building as the museum. BÚR was one of Iceland's most productive fishing companies, and the largest producer of redfish fillets.