"Had someone said this to me a few years ago, I had laughed at them," said Frank Arvid Pettersen. "It would have been unthinkable. It's almost surreal."
In recent weeks, he and other enthusiasts have hauled large cod over the rail out of Isfjorden. A few minutes away from the harbor in Longyearbyen the cod are close together. Probably they have followed the herring, and at a depth of 60 meters there is a full party.
On a fishing trip last Thursday, the anglers had their hands full hauling the fish in.
"If I was tired?" said Arne Gunhildberget, who was traveling with his son, Sondre, 15. "We could fill the boat entirely if we wanted. It was just taking out the hook and hauling up again."
Pettersen took the fish out of the water with a gaff and Gunhildberget described the whole thing as a "Lofoten Klondike."
About two hours passed between when they departed and returned. Back home, Gunhildberget spent two more hours cutting fillets from the catch.
"It was between ten and fifteen kilograms of pure cod fillets," he said.
"It is quite many kilos that are being landed here. And yesterday it was perfectly lovely when we lay out in Isfjorden with the sunset," said Pettersen, who came up to Svalbard in 1984.
He said has always liked to fish, but it was no more than four or five years ago he started. He realized there was cod in the fjord. At the time they were of a considerably smaller size than they had been in years.
"Now we get lots of large cod that is full of herring, and some haddock," he said, describing fishing that could have been off the coast of the northern mainland. "I have not been involved in getting such a big cod. There are certainly a lot of people who think it's very enjoyable. And it provides food."
"Yesterday there was just as much to haul out as we could manage," he said, speculating the water's warmer temperatures has allowed the larger cod to make inroads. "It's totally crazy. I have sonar on the boat and there were fish symbols everywhere."
REEAD MORE: Saithe and fresh cod - from Svalbard?
Lots of cod in the future
There is every reason to believe there will be favorable fishing waters. Research in Svalbard shows ocean temperatures have increased, new species have followed suit and therefore there may be even better fishing in the future. Jørgen Berge, a professor at The University Centre in Svalbard and the University in Tromsø, wrote an article in Svalbardposten recently showing how Atlantic cod appeared in Kongsfjorden when temperatures increased in 2006. Since then they have remained and new species have emerged. He suggested the cod in Isfjorden are related to the total population in the Barents Sea and annual variations in the inflow of Atlantic water into the fjords on the west coast of Spitsbergen.
"There are also indications that the fjords on the west coast of Svalbard have undergone a sort of regime change, and that we probably are going to see fjords with little sea ice and a lot of cod in the foreseeable future," he wrote in a statement to Svalbardposten after hearing about the large catches in Isfjorden. "Especially in wintertime we have the in last 10 years seen the fjords are warmer than previously."
Not from the freezer showcase
According to Berge, there are reports of very good cod fishing in Kongsfjorden the late 1870s and early 1880s. He stated he also believes it is obvious global climate change is playing an important role.
"One thing is for certain: with such an occurrence as this year where we are seeing cod right on our doorstep, I think it would in any case be a bit sad to eat fish sticks made in China and sold in the freezer case at Svalbardbutikken," he added.
Many people in Longyearbyen have similar thoughts.
"It's a real treat and we are now getting guests from the mainland," Gunhildberget said. "Then we will serve fresh cod."
Translated by Mark Sabbatini