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Stockfish, or the Icelandic - Nigerian State of Mind

Fish heads out to dry on the Reykjanes peninsula

On our drive south to Krýsuvík and Grindavík last week we passed by a forest of fish-drying stocks, and decided to stop for a closer look. Planted there in the middle of a lava field, the sight of all those low-tech A-frames hung with thousands of cod carcasses is somehow primitive and reminiscent of a simpler time.

I’ve seen these racks before, so I initially stopped to show eight year-old Óðinn but ended up mesmerized by the bright green grass and the thin layer of chartreuse moss covering the wooden poles, and how the sunlight danced over the whole scene. Out of curiosity I googled ‘dried fish heads iceland’ and discovered that we export most of the stuff to Nigeria as one of their major sources of protein. We're not the only country to do so, as you can read about in this interesting interview with a Scottish exporter, but we seem to be at the top of the field.

While I was researching, I ran across a heartwarming story of an Icelandic exporter, Salka - Norfish Ltd, that donates money to an eye center in Nigeria to fund cataract surgery for locals. But then I also discovered a more sinister angle to the business, as detailed in a harch 2011 article in the Nigerian Ships & Ports media outlet about foul dealings on the part of Icelandic exporters, including: "Mixing of orders or types of stockfish unilaterally without refund...Non-performance of agreed contract terms...Non-delivery of consignment after payment/shipment (evidenced by bill of lading) ...Fraud... Use of unseaworthy containers, allowing rain and sea water to soak consignments...Average 50-kilogramme, fish head bag less 26 30 kilogrammes sent on many occasions..." and more.

My first thought on reading this was, of course. My second thought was, maybe it's fair karma for all the Nigerian phone and email scams we've been inundated with here in Iceland. If you've been reading my blog for a while, though, you'll know that I'm under no delusion that my countrymen and women are above a common swindle or two. As a matter of fact, I believe that duplicitousness is part of our opportunistic national character, nurtured by the need to survive in historically harsh conditions. You do what you have to do to make it through the winter, right? And especially on an arctic island that seems to be one big very active volcano.

A little more research gave me this article on a British man who was arrested by Interpol for having defrauded tons of money from Nigerian importers of Icelandic stockfish. In the end greed truly is an international state of mind...


caribougrrl said...

Here in Newfoundland it's not unusual to see salted cod drying on flakes (slatted frames), but I've never seen anything like those masses of cod heads! Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Uaaaaah, that's enlightening, Alva. And helps me have a more nuanced understanding on some issues and be less judgmental, maybe.
I have lived in China for too many years now, and I have developed this belief that Chinese are inherently deceiving-prone folks. All those "bad commercial practices" you mentioned were looking just what I would certainly expect from Chinese ("Of course!", I can here myself exclaiming in my brain). And this is what is so enlightening, to see that it was not Chinese, but Icelanders that were doing it.
Thanks for the view point!!