Stricter border controls hinder foreign workers from entering Norway. This causes problems for the Lofoten Islands as they are about to enter their busiest fishing season, without workers to do the job.
“Just a week of reduction in the number of fish we receive means one extra month of redundancy,” Mikalsen says.
The new border controls were issued by the Norwegian government on 27th January and went into force two days later. They have particularly affected the fishing industry of the Lofoten Islands. Companies cannot use the seasonal workers from abroad during the traditional Lofotfisket, the single most important source of income for the fishing industry which ensures income for the rest of the year.
Lofotfisket has already started in the northern islands and will last until April, but the southern islands are still waiting to start.
“This was very unfortunate timing. If we knew a bit earlier, we could have arranged plans,” says Elisabeth Mikalsen, vice president of the Lofoten Council and mayor of Røst municipality in Southern Lofoten.
Together with the Lofoten Business Forum, the Lofoten Council has issued several suggestions to the Department of Trade, Industry, and Fisheries on how to safely bring the seasonal workers to the region.
Their request to define seasonal workers in the fishing industry as essential workers was declined. Now, they hope the government will agree to open the Norwegian-Swedish border by Bjørnefjell twice during the two-week period. They also suggest the possibility of the aviation company Widerøe to fly workers from Lithuania and Poland directly to the Lofoten Islands. Both are under consideration by the government.
“We understand that keeping the infections under control must be first priority,” says Mikalsen.
“But it should be possible to do something to preserve the fishing industry.”
Jan Håkon Juul, municipal chief physician in the Lofoten municipality Vågan, says there have been many positive corona cases among foreign workers. But there has been no spread of the coronavirus to the local community, as people have upheld the corona restrictions.
Local citizens who have temporarily lost their jobs due to the corona pandemic have been hired for Lofotfisket. However, there are still not enough workers available.
Juul is worried that the shut borders may lead to businesses closing.
“That could result in huge health consequences for those who get an unsure daily life,” he says.
In the long term, the Lofoten Council and local businesses look for ways to create more full-time jobs within the fishing industry. This would enable the industry to rely more on local workforce than what they can today.