Lofoten and Vesterålen

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Lofoten (lō`fōtən) and Vesterålen

(vĕst`ərôlən), two contiguous island groups (1995 est. pop. 56,700), Nordland and Troms counties, NW Norway, in the Norwegian Sea. Situated within the Arctic Circle, the islands extend c.150 mi (240 km) from northeast to southwest and are from 1 to 50 mi (1.6–80 km) off the mainland. The North Atlantic Drift gives these northern islands a temperate climate. The chief islands of the Lofoten group are Røstøya, Vaerøya, Moskenesøya, Vestvågøya, and Austvågøya; the celebrated MoskenstraumenMoskenstraumen
or Maelstrom
, tidewater whirlpool in the Lofoten Islands, NW Norway. Formed when tidal currents flow through coastal fjords and a maze of small islands, it is c.2.5 mi (4 km) wide and may at its center reach a speed of 10 ft (3 m) per second.
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 is S of Moskenesøya. The Vesterålen group, separated from the Lofoten by the narrow Raftsundet, includes the islands of Hinnøya (the largest island of Norway), Langøya, and Andøya. Svolvaer, on Austvågøya, and Hårstad, on Hinnøya, are the main trading centers. The chief economic importance of these island groups lies in their cod and herring fisheries, which are among the richest in the world: the codfish shoal on the eastern coast of the islands from February to April, the herrings on the western coast from August to November. During these seasons thousands of fishing craft come to the fish banks, but treacherous tidal currents make operations dangerous and difficult. The local population also engages in cattle and sheep raising. Coal and magnetite are mined on Andøya and Langøya.