The quiet northern town of Siglufjörður is an Icelandic capitalism in miniature: it went through a period of great prosperity based on a single industry, then experienced financial collapse, and despite all this, the architects of the town are honoured for their historic contributions.
In Siglufjörður’s case, that industry was herring. This was actually not an Icelandic discovery; the Norwegians were fishing for herring in the area since the beginning of the 20th century. But once Icelanders caught wind of the stocks, things really took off. At its peak in the 1950s, over 3,100 people lived in Siglufjörður—more than twice the population today.
Icelanders from around the country flocked to Siglufjörður, including venture capitalists from Reykjavík. The town exploded with jobs and resources. If there were any cautious voices pointing out the folly of resting an entire local economy on one resource, they went unheard. That was a shame, because by the mid-1960s, the herring stocks had more or less disappeared not only from the area but from Icelandic waters as a whole, and would not return for decades.
Today, the Herring Museum, and the Herring Festival, honour the boom times, while quietly underplaying the bust that made a few Reykjavíkingur quite rich but many Siglufjörður residents without jobs. That’s Iceland for you.
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