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Stories from Norway

The unlikely village at the end of the world

Thirty years ago, the inhabitants of Bugøynes, perched on the far north of the Norwegian coast, were ready to pack up and leave for good.Now, the place has bounced back, thanks to a combination of tenacity, gumption and a continental hunger for the marvelous red king crab.

The unlikely village at the end of the world

Bugøynes might be one of the last places on earth you would expect humans to thrive. It’s a place where you barely see the sun in winter and not at all in December and January. There’s practically no vegetation to speak of between the rocky, weathered hills. A few bushes and trees have managed to take root: all of them withered and windswept, none of them edible. Further inland, you’ll find a few reindeer herds scraping a living by gnawing on moss beneath the snow, but out here there’s not much to sustain human life.

Yet, if you do brave the barren, windy Arctic landscape and the narrow, winding roads leading to the tiny village - which is about as far to the north-east as you can possibly get on the European mainland - you’ll find a thriving community.

At the end of the road you find Bugøynes, a village that is thriving as a result of the red king crab.

The village that almost sank

To understand the fall and rise of Bugøynes, we need to go back half a century and across the border to north-eastern Russia. There, in the 1960s, Soviet scientists released a few specimens of the red king crab into Russian waters, and these crabs soon spread west into Norwegian waters. For the fishing communities along the northern Norwegian coast, the red king crab was bad news: it proliferated prodigiously and undermined local marine ecosystems wherever it went.

At the time, Bugøynes was merely a remote and mostly unremarkable fishing village. The fish processing center, where fishermen deliver their hauls to be quality-controlled, filleted and sent to market, formed the bedrock of the local economy. It provided enough stable employment to keep the community afloat. In the 1980s, Bugøynes’ fortunes changed for the worse. The fishermen started delivering their hauls to more accessible processing centers elsewhere, and the village saw an economic decline. In 1987, the processing center closed its doors for good. Øyvind Seipæjærvi, local bank employee-turned-fisherman and one of the driving forces behind Bugøynes’ eventual resurgence, remembers it as a trying time.

“We tried to keep it running and to bring in new owners, but to no avail,” he recalls. “We were desperate for a new source of revenue.”

The years that followed were marred by bleak prospects, and many people considered relocating. Bugøynes’ residents even placed an advertisement in a national newspaper, seeking “any place that would like to increase its population by 300.”

Then we started fishing for king crabs
Øyvind Seipæjærvi
Norway King Crab

Saved by the villain

Three decades later, however, the residents of Bugøynes had an epiphany: they started seeing the red king crab as a resource and not just a nuisance. Together with a handful of enterprising souls, Øyvind Seipæjærvi started promoting Bugøynes-caught crab to seafood restaurants all over Europe. “I was practically traveling around Europe carrying king crabs under both my arms,” Seipæjærvi says.

The strategy succeeded. Now the headquarters of Norway King Crab fills the space of the old fish processing center, and demand for the clawed crustacean from Bugøynes is high.

“Now, king crab from Bugøynes is served in exclusive seafood restaurants in big cities all over the world: London, Paris, Tokyo, Abu Dhabi and many more,” Seipæjærvi states proudly. “It’s not something for your everyday tourist, but is often eaten by seafood lovers,” he adds.

Thanks to the red king crab, Bugøynes has gone from a struggling, backwater village at the edge of civilization to a place that attracts people from far and wide.

"I’ve only tried swimming here once, and I’m not tempted to go in again."
Maria Høiberget Lavoll
Lives in Bugøynes

Sacrifices worth making

There’s more to Bugøynes than just crabs. By setting up a sauna on the beach on the outskirts of the village, they are attracting tourist buses crossing over from Finland, filled with people seeking the thrills and chills of a full Arctic submersion. Visitors are being herded from the sauna to the beach by Maria Høiberget Lavoll, who occasionally takes a break from her accounting job to help her brother’s sauna business. As long as she doesn’t have to go into the water, Maria doesn’t mind the cold and dark remoteness of Bugøynes. In fact, she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. She does admit that you do have to make some compromises in a place like this, but, in the long run, they don’t matter. She says it’s a place that forces you to focus on what you actually need to live a good life, as opposed what you think you want.

“You know, we’re so used to getting everything we want at the snap of our fingers,” she says. “But we don’t really need that. If I want to go the movies, for example, I have no problem taking the kids for a two-hour drive. If it’s a good movie we really want to watch, it’s worth it.”

The gift that keeps on giving

Bugøynes may seem quiet, but it is far from idle. Maria is an active part of the local Health Society, which hosts a different kind of activity almost every week.

“There’s everything from sports events and hiking to quizzes and song evenings,” she explains. “We strive to offer something for everyone, whatever their age, throughout the year.”

The combination of ample marine resources and a strong sense of community is what makes Bugøynes such a vibrant place.“Why on earth would I consider going back south?” asks Mariella Lind, who moved here five years ago. “All the things that matter to me are here: fresh air, good people and the opportunity to experience nature.”