Sea changes ashore: The ocean and Iceland's herring capital

Lawrence C. Hamilton*, Steingrímur Jónsson, Helga Ögmundardóttir, Igor M. Belkin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


The story of Siglufjörour (Siglufjordur), a north Iceland village that became the "Herring Capital of the World," provides a case study of complex interactions between physical, biological, and social systems. Siglufjörour's natural capital - a good harbor and proximity to prime herring grounds - contributed to its development as a major fishing center during the first half of the 20th century. This herring fishery was initiated by Norwegians, but subsequently expanded by Icelanders to such an extent that the fishery, and Siglufjörour in particular, became engines helping to pull the whole Icelandic economy. During the golden years of this "herring adventure," Siglufjörour opened unprecedented economic and social opportunities. Unfortunately, the fishing boom reflected unsustainably high catch rates. In the years following World War II, overfishing by an international fleet eroded the once-huge herring stock. Then, in the mid-1960s, large-scale physical changes took place in the seas north of Iceland. These physical changes had ecological consequences that led to the loss of the herring's main food supply. Severe environmental stress, combined with heavy fishing pressure, drove the herring stocks toward collapse. Siglufjörour found itself first marginalized, then shut out as the herring progressively vanished. During the decades following the 1968 collapse, this former boomtown has sought alternatives for sustainable development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-335
Number of pages11
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2004

Other keywords

  • Climate change
  • Fisheries
  • Great Salinity Anomaly
  • Herring
  • Human dimensions
  • Iceland
  • Overfishing
  • Siglufjordur


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