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Situated at the south-west peak of the island and twenty kilometers from Breivikbotn, Sørvær seems like the tip of the world. The few two hundred inhabitants, whom for most of them have jobs related to fishing, live on this peninsula nestled between the sea and the mountains.
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Along the single paved road on the island that follow the South-West coast, three villages are spread about. Breivikbotn, which welcomes three-hundred inhabitants, lies at the bottom of a fjord which protects its harbor from the ocean harshness.
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"I have never imagined living other than like this. When I was twelve, I would go fishing alone with my nets on a small boat as soon as school was over. I have always worked, I have never done anything else! If one day I must sit down and do nothing, then it will be complicated.
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Hoisted onboard by a machine, the nets are emptied of their catch incrementaly as they are raised. A small tool combining a hook and a blade allows to extract the fish tangled in the mesh and to cut their throats with the same hand.
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At the back of the boat, a reel untangles and folds the nets. Hand work is often required after large catches which create piles of knots. The nets last an average of three seasons, but in case of storms or strong winds, they may be unusable as of their first launch.
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The first fishing lines are risen around six o'clock in the morning in the winter, or three o'clock in the summer. In the ocean which is still dark, the boat's projector reveals the cods' stomachs brought to the surface.
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Hans-Peter, much like all the other fishermen, relies on sight to spot buoys which localize the nets to pull up. The GPS markers of the dropping off points from the day before aren't always sufficient, currents can carry the fishing material to several kilometers: about an hour can be needed to find them!
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Ragnar is one of the oldest fishermen in Sørvær. "I have fished here for forty eight years... My father and my grand-father were also fishermen."
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The fish are pulled onboard with a wooden gaff. Cods can weigh up to a few tens of kilos in the winter which can quickly make this movement repeated hundreds of times become exhausting.
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Thomas is working with Ragnar: "I was a carpenter in Lithuania, I came to Sørvær seven years ago to earn more money, following my brother's advice. Little by little, I have come to appreciate this place and this job. Nowadays I have bought a house and a boat, my sister works in the fish factory and my parents bait the lines."
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With the winter season in full swing, you must go out into the sea every day. Snow does not stop the fishermen, who are rather more worried about the associated strong winds and swell.
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After having raised all the lines, whose numbers vary between five in the winter to fifteen in the summer, depending on the catches, more lines are released at the back of the boat. Distributed along the line, which unwinds at a fast pace projecting its hooks, floaters and weights are released at regular intervals.
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Tom-Richard: "Fishing is a whole: when you start early in the morning it is dark, it is cold, but you have to go even though it's though. You just want to go to sleep, but you go anyways. You drop or you raise your lines or your nets, you do your job. When you are done, you come back to solid ground, you have fish in your boat, you drink a warm coffee and you swallow a loaf of bread. You're tired but you have that nice feeling inside your stomach: I did it! This feeling, you can't get it with an office job."
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Stanislas, a young moldavian, has worked on a boat for a few months. Focused on the lines beign cast off, he pays attention to alternately attach floats and weights, in order for the line to spread in deep waters.
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Ragnar and Thomas are on their way back to the harbor. Their job is not done yet: once their boat is moored to the factory pontoon, the hold still has to be emptied.
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During the cod fishing season, docks are never empty. From sunrise to sunset, beneath snow or northern lights that animate the winter skies, boats unload impressive quantities of fish which are directly prepared by the factory.
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Hands constantly frozen in spite of wearing gloves, arms aching after substantial efforts to unload the fish, the docker's job is as though as the fishermen's. Most of the employees come from Poland or Lithuania, for a few months in the winter when the activity is important.
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The climate being too cold to dry the fish optimally, Sørøya cannot compete with the fish production from the Lofoten islands further south. However, the cods' heads are dried on huge wooden racks at the end of the village. Their destination is quite exotic: Nigeria for the most part, where they are used as base ingredient for a traditional soup with elevated levels of proteins.