What Salmon Means to Norway
Before I got to Norway, I viewed salmon farming as an industry of large corporations, with massive teams and industrial-sized equipment. Some of that has still held up since my arrival in Norway (the boats are indeed massive), but after meeting with farmers directly, John and I have begun to learn more about why salmon means to much to the country of Norway and its people. On our journey down the coast of the country, we were able to visit with Aksel Olsen, owner of Selsøyvik Havbruk AS, who helped us see that salmon farming is more than large corporations. It’s personal.
Aksel’s farm is located in northern Norway on a small island called Selsøya, where the total population is 30. Historically, the island served an important role as the last stop for travelers and fishermen headed to Lofoten, one of the world’s greatest cod fishery. The island would frequently house and feed visitors on their longs journeys, and today it still sees many boats and ferries moving up and down the coast. As we began our road trip, it was only right that our first stop be at a farm in Selsøya .
Aksel grew up on the island, and after a few years in Oslo, returned with his wife Tone in 1989 to help his father run their family salmon farm. Together, they raised a family of five on the island, and now they are the proud grandparents of five grandchildren. Through the years, the island has changed dramatically, but Selsøyvik and the Oslen family have played an extremely important role in the small, close-knit community that lives there. Aksel ran the farm, and Tone was both an school and music teacher for the kids on the island.
The community has been built upon its hospitality to visitors, and our experience was no different. We intended to camp on the island, but upon arrival, Aksel was insistent that we eat dinner with him and stay in their guest house. They served us a traditional Norwegian meal (fiskekaker), and together we chatted about life, family, and, of course, fish.
During dinner, we noticed that Aksel would constantly scan the horizon. I thought he was just curious to see what boats would be driving by, but it turns out that outside of running his farm, he’s also in charge of managing the dock at Selsøyvik. Multiple times throughout the day, he runs down to the dock and helps the ferry or other ships land at the dock. One thing is for sure, if you find yourself visiting the area, it is very likely that you’ll meet Aksel Oslen at the dock ,welcoming you to Selsøya.
After dinner, we sat down with Aksel to hear more about the business. We specifically asked Aksel why he has turned down offers from other companies looking to buy his farm. His answer was straight and honest. He said, “What am I going to do then? I have to work.” He’s someone who likes to stay busy, and salmon farming keeps him busy. For him, salmon farming is what he does — it’s that simple. Later in the conversation, Aksel explained that if he sold his farm, what happens to the farm would be out of his control. Aksel and the farm represent the largest and frankly the only industry on the island, so if the farm doesn’t exist, his community, one that he and Tone helped shape, wouldn’t either.
In our short time visiting Selsøyvik, Aksel and Tone welcomed us to the island and showed us how personal salmon farming can be. Throughout the evening, we spent our time telling stories of traveling, politics, and the robotic mowers in the yard. As we spoke about the future, Aksel was clear that he believes the future will be determined by a younger generation. While he recognizes that he may not understand everything about technology, he does understand its importance and how it will shape the future. Before we met Aksel, John and I thought that technology could shape the future, but from meeting him, we have a bigger takeaway. He taught us that while technology will play a big role in the future, hospitality, family, and community are values that you cannot lose in the process.
Thank you Aksel and Tone for your gracious welcome and generous hospitality!