Basking shark video

The basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is the second largest fish in the world. Only the whale shark is bigger. A grown basking shark has usually a length between eight and ten meters, but it can be at least 13,7 meters long, weighing several tons.

In spite of its size the basking shark is a harmless shark. It feeds on plankton and other small fishes and creatures floating near the surface. While feeding the shark swims with its mouth open, using its gills to filter the seawater. This huge shark has a worldwide distribution and can bee observed alone or in shoals. In spring and summer the basking shark is often seen feeding in the surface but the basking shark seeks to deeper waters in the winter.

This short video shows a basking shark feeding. You can see some photos of former hunt for basking shark on this page.

Weever fish – the most dangerous fish in Norway?

It is not much you need to be afraid of while spending time by the coast of Norway. No bears, no wolfs and no dangerous sharks outside the beaches. I guess stinging jellyfish and sea urchins are what most people fear the most, though you should not play with the teeth of the porbeagle or the wolf fish – nor shaking hands with crabs and lobsters. The most dangerous fish in Norwegian waters must be the weever fish – greater weever. Not because of its size, but by the fact that it is poisonous.

Weever fish. Photo: fiskeri.no

You don’t die if you get poisoned by a weever fish, but it is very painful. The injury also qualify to visit a doctor. Most people never get to see a weever fish, but in some areas along the Nowegian coast it is quite common. In Norway you may catch greater weever on shallow waters using baited hooks (or long lines). If you some day get a weever fish on the hook, then handle it with care. Most injuries occure while handling the fish. Remember that the weever fish has two poisonous spines on the frontal dorsal fin and one on each side of the gills.

The poisonous spines of the weever fish. Photo: fiskeri.no

Former halibut fishing in Norway – A lesson in over fishing. Part 2

The halibut has always been a popular fish in Norway. We know that man has fished halibut since the stone age. Illustrations of halibuts were engraved into stone by proud fishermen. The big halibut was a fish surrounded by mystery and superstition. In those days it is likely to believe that the halibut was caught by using harpoons. They may also had used hooks made of bone.

Fishing halibut with long lines. Photo: Torstein Halsensen

Except from the spawning period, big halibuts can bee found in shallow waters. A big halibut gives the fisherman an unforgettable fight and one fish is enough to feed several families. Fishermen used hooks (on lines and long lines) and harpoons for hundreds of years, but in the 1930’s a new fishing gear was introduced to the fishermen in the northern part of Norway.

In 1936 the first Norwegian halibut-nets were made. The Norwegian government paid the costs for making and trying out ten nets. The nets were set on deep water in Lofoten and the result was outstanding. During the autumt the same year 60 vessels participated in this fishery. The catches were very good, but by the end of the year the halibut “disappeared” from the fishing ground. The fishermen moved their nets to other fishing grounds. It was a success. Equipped with their new nets, the fishermen set their gear on every known spawning ground. The increase in the catches were unbelievable. Using nets for one month gave a better result than fishing with long lines for a whole year. Nothing lasts forever, and the adventure in the north lasted only for a few months. The halibuts were gone. Where did they go? The halibuts had not gone anywhere – the fishermen had taken them all. Norwegian scientists and the government responded quickly. In 1937 a minimum size limit was introduced and it was not allowed to fish with nets in the spawning period. The catches in 1937 were depressing. The number of halibuts entering the spawning grounds were low. The grown halibuts – seeking the limited spawning grounds by instinct – had been an easy prey for the fishermen. Some fishing grounds were “dead”. In other spawning areas only a few halibuts spawned. A halibut is about 10 years old the first time it spawns. You don’t have to be a scientist to figure out that it took decades to rebuild the stocks.

Fishing halibut in Norway. Photo: Torstein Halstensen

Even today, 70 years later, the stocks – both in the north and especially in the south of Norway – are too small. Some halibuts in the south is caught to be tagged. Every year the scientists learn more about the halibut. Knowledge is essential to make us understand the halibut and how the stock respond to the pressure from fishing and changes in its environment.

Tagged halibut in Norway. Photo: Torstein Halstensen

The Norwegian spring spawning herring. An important lesson in over fishing!

Over fishing is a problem throughout the world. Even in Europe the nations have problems protecting and managing stocks. For several species it is necessary to “have a plan”, but such plans of protecting and rebuilding stocks are unpopular among the fishermen and people connected to the fish industry. Norway learned a lesson the hard way in the 1970’s.

Fishing for herring has been the most important fishery for most fishermen in Norway. In the 1950’s the spring spawning herring were caught east of Iceland in the summer and off the coast of Norway in the winter and spring.

Fishing herring using nets. Photo: Harald Hausken

Scientists and fishermen cooperated in the hunt for the herring. Using sonar and knowing the distribution area the scientists and fishermen could easily find the herring. This progress in the 1950’s was combined with better equipment and improved fishing gear. The power block made the fishery more efficient, and the vessels were bigger and safer. The reduce in the stock in the early 1960’s were compensated with more intensive fishing using modern technology and better equipment.

Seiner with a catch of herring in the late 1960's. Photo: Odd Haugetun

In 1966 it was caught 2 000 000 tons of Norwegian spring spawning herring. Vessels from Iceland and Russia had then been considerable parts of the fleet fishing for herring. All ages of herring were caught. In the late 1960’s most of the herring did not get old enough to spawn. No one wanted to see “the writing on the wall”. In 1969 the stock collapsed and in 1970 the Norwegian government banned the fishing for young herring. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the Norwegian spring spawning herring changed migration pattern several times. This may be a mechanism triggered off by the decrease in the stock. The Russian scientists could not find herring in The Norwegian Sea in 1971, and the Russian drifters returned with no catch. A last change in migration pattern had led the rest of the spawning stock into the fjord Vestfjorden in northern Norway. This may have saved the spring spawning herring from total extermination. The collaps in the stock was still a fact, and the effect of the long lasting over fishing was clear to both fishermen and scientists. A large fishing fleet from Norway and other countries was depended on herring, and thousands of fishermen and workers in the fish industry had great parts of their yearly income from the herring fisheries. In 1972 the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) agreed not to fish herring during the winter (during the spawning). It was then too late. Even a total ban did not seem to help. Some fishermen did not agree in the ban. It was hard to believe the fact. Norway had fished for herring for hundreds of years. The herring had always been there. Were the scientists right? Later on (in the 1990’s) scientists estimated the stock in 1972 to bee only 2000 tons. That means that one single modern seiner could have carried the whole 1972-stock of Norwegian spring spawning herring. It then took 25 years to rebuild the stock. In 2002 the stock was as big and healthy as in the 1950’s.

Fishing herring in Vestfjorden in 2003. Photo: R. Gjerde

Many fishermen lost their job in the 1970’s, and the government had to pay ship owners to scrap their vessels. The growth of the oil industry in the 1970’s gave work to a lot of the fishermen. There were few alternatives within fishing. Norway had to pay for the collapse of the herring stock – and it was an expensive and hard way of learning for the communities along the coast.

Knowing this history from Norway it is sad to observe other countries (and unions) not taking effort in protecting and rebuilding stocks. Doing nothing, or not taking the difficult decisions, is to wait for a collapse. It will come, and then it is too late for the stocks, the fishermen, the ship owners, and others involved in the fisheries.

Basking shark – some photos from Norway

The basking shark was a common shark in Norwegian waters. Some fishing vessels specialized in the hunt for these sharks, and for many fishermen the basking shark fishery was an important part of the yearly income. I have written some articles about this fishery and that has given me access to a lot of spectacular photos. What you see on these photos is now history, and that makes these photos both rare and valuable. Below you will see a vessel hunting basking shark in The North Sea in the early 1970’s, and some of the photos has not been published before.

Basking shark

The fishing vessel is approaching the basking shark.

Basking sharks

Closing in on the shoal. We can clearly see that there are at least four basking sharks in the shoal. The tip of the harpoon gun can bee seen at the bottom of the photo.

Fireing the harpoon gun

The harpoon gun is fired. The harpoon goes straight through the shark.

Basking shark

The basking shark tries to dive. The vessel forces the shark to the surface. The power of the shark makes the vessel rock and shake (photo over and below). Sometimes the shark hit the vessel with its tail or head. The battle with large basking sharks could also cause damages to the boat.

Vessel hunting basking shark

Shooting a basing shark

Harpooned, but far from dead. The fishermen had to shoot the shark. A bullet in its head was the most efficient way.

A dead basking shark

The shark is dead and hauled towards the vessel. The fishermen then started to remove the fins and to open the shark. The valuable liver was then released and loaded into the vessel. If you want to know more about the former Norwegian hunt for basking shark, you may go to this page. All photos on this page is given by Lorentz Rolfsnes. The photos were taken on his vessel; “Vita”.

Update: A unique film is now available. Se a short film of the hunt for basking sharks.