Cod Fishing in Greenland
By Paul Shoul
Bo Lings, the owner and skipper of the boat Sirius, a rugged Tagra 35 also known as the 4x4 of the sea, is like a kid in a candy store.
I am in Sisimiut, Greenland, heading out for a day of fishing for cod and can think of no one I would rather have at the helm. He is radiant with confidence. His knowledge of the sea is unparallelled. The boat is unsinkable.
Outfitted with survival suits, advanced communications and a sonar system so detailed that he has been hired to chart the ocean floor of the harbor and fjords around Sisimiut, he knows every inch.
Greenland is not a place to mess around with. The weather changes are dramatic and they happen fast. If you get in trouble, you had better know what to do and have the gear to do it.
Pushing the Limits
That being said, when Bo sits down on his hydraulic captain's chair that rises and falls up to three feet to absorb the shock of the waves, a sly grin spreads across his face. He knows the boat's limits and is about to push them.
After clearing the harbor, he guns it. The group I am with holds on fast to anything we can find. We're in thirty-foot swells going 30 knots; the boat flies airborne over the waves. Bo is cracking up when he turns to see our faces. He loves it. We're loving it. It is going to be a good day.
An hour later, we round the bend of the harbor and enter the calm of the fjord. All is quiet and calm. Green moss covered mountains rise around the boat as mist floats over the ocean. A few lonely birds glide by. It is peaceful here.
Bo turns on the fish finder and a bright picture of the underwater terrain lights up the screen. There are a few around us but Bo says that he is looking for a school of cod that fills the screen edge to edge.
“The Cod is coming back to Greenland strong,” he says. I find it ironic that global warming and the melting of the Greenland ice cap that threatens the world ecology has also meant that cod have started to move north into Greenland’s warmer waters and their numbers are growing.
When Bo Says 'Go'
His shipmate Michael Karing brings out the rods and gives us instructions. “When Bo Says 'Go' drop the lines until they hit the bottom, then reel your line in a few feet and give it some motion.”
The lines have a heavy weight on the end and four or five bright colored lures running up it. For the next two hours, we fish. Sometimes there is nothing and then suddenly the cod are coming in fast and everyone is catching them.
They are big fish but classically give up when they are hooked and you just have to haul them in. I don’t want to brag but the rest of my group was getting pretty teed off at me for the number of fish I was catching. I was even catching them on the way down. I caught 13 in total.
When we had caught more than we could possibly eat, Bo started to fillet them at the back of the boat and then started cooking. The meal for the evening would consist of big chunks of flaky white Cod, new potatoes in butter sauce and parsley, white wine and a case of Greenlandic beer, made with the cleanest water in the world.
Floating on the ocean, eating the freshest fish, drinking the best beer and wine with a view that just cannot be matched anywhere in the world. Our laughter echoed off the fjord cliffs.
A Calm Natural Harbor
Bo ‘s company, Arctic Dive is based in Sisimiut. This was my second trip to this town; I had been here earlier during the winter and I was amazed how green Greenland really is during the summer.
In the morning, men head out to the sea, some in small launches to fish or to hunt seals and reindeer and others set out on larger vessels for crab or shrimp, depending on the season.Every house has a dog sledge waiting for the winter snows. A few dogs may be kept at home but most are contained in large “dog parking areas” on the outskirts of town so their constant barking won’t drive people crazy.
Every afternoon the catch is brought to the local fish-processing factory or is cleaned and put up for sale by individuals at a gathering point on the harbor banks.
These guys are tough but very friendly. I was told that when they are out on the ocean in 20-below weather, when their hands get cold, they stick them in the water to warm them up.
Global warming has focused the world’s attention on Greenland’s melting ice, and these are the people who are most intimately involved with and affected by climate change. They have lived in balance with their environment for thousands of years and the changes threaten their entire culture.
Greenland's Greatest Treasure
Every time I travel there I leave with a greater respect and concern for them. It is true that travel to Greenland offers a boundless opportunity for adventure: hiking, whale watching, fishing, extreme skiing and dog sledging are just a few.
There are two hotels and one hostel in town. I have stayed at the Seamen’s Home that is very comfortable and homey, located just above the main harbor. This time I stayed at the Hotel Sisimiut, which is much larger and upscale and has a top-notch restaurant.
I love the food in Greenland. Mounds of fresh smoked salmon are a part of most meals along with countless other smoked and pickled fish like halibut and herring. They also eat reindeer that is sliced thin and resembles roast beef but much sweeter.
Because everything has to be imported, a salad is the most expensive thing on the menu, so they eat a lot of onions that will store well and capers.
There are a few other restaurants in town including a Chinese one where you can try musk ox soup, whale sushi, crab, scallops, Greenland’s famous sweet little shrimp and stir-fried seal.
I’m not a big fan of the seal but I could eat musk ox all day. It makes a rich broth that will keep you warm through the coldest of nights.
Although Sisimiut is Greenland's second largest town, when you consider that there are only about 57,000 people on an island three times the size of Texas, it is still a small isolated, natural place where the sound of a plane is still cause for excitement.
I was sad to leave. Our flight on Air Greenland’s Dash Seven, the small plane that can land and take off on a dime, the plane that connects this outpost with the outside world, leaped into the sky.
I strained and watched as long as I could, as the town that I have come to love became just a tiny dot in the vastness of this amazing place.
Paul Shoul is a Northampton, MA-based photographer who doubles as a staff writer for GoNOMAD. For thirty years he’s lived in the Pioneer Valley and chronicled life there though his work in the Valley Advocate and Preview magazines. He’s also been seen in the Boston Globe, New York Times, BBC, the Chronicle of Higher Education and many other publications. Today as well as shooting around the world for GoNOMAD he works for local nonprofits, banks and advertising agencies.