IN PICTURES: Meet Sweden’s only female oyster diver

Lotta Klemming decided to leave a career in fashion to pursue oyster diving, and has never looked back.

IN PICTURES: Meet Sweden's only female oyster diver
Lotta Klemming. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

On a small boat nosing its way through the frozen waters of the Grebbestad archipelago on Sweden’s west coast, Lotta Klemming scans the mist-covered rocks for the perfect spot to find a local delicacy.

While France may spring to mind as a more obvious place to find oysters, the Swedish archipelago is home to wild Ostrea edulis – a variety distinct in size and flavour from those reared on farms.

The oysters, which can reach up to 11 centimetres (just over four inches) in size, have been long admired by connoisseurs in Sweden and in the 17th century the shellfish were collected from the region for the Swedish king’s table.

Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

Klemming, 31, is one of a handful of divers in Sweden who plunge into the icy waters in full scuba gear to collect the shellfish year-round.

Sitting in the boat, with a heavy fur hat pulled down over her long hair, the diver puts on thick woollen gloves over her drysuit to protect against the cold.

Klemming and her father Peter, who is also a diver, moor the small boat in the shallow waters by a rocky outcrop, check their air tanks and jump into the water with a plastic basket.

“They have a very intense taste – it’s not like a new beginner’s oyster,” Klemming says.

The oysters’ distinctive metallic aftertaste is best paired with a Guinness or stout, Klemming suggests.

Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

Sense of fulfillment

After filling several baskets, the pair heave themselves into the boat, speeding back to their dive house in the village of Grebbestad.

Klemming unloads the oysters and takes them in a wheelbarrow to a nearby beach to clean them with a knife and package them to be sold on to restaurants in Stockholm and Gothenburg where they sell for around seven euros apiece.

She grew up in the village on the coast near the Norwegian border, where her father and uncle work as divers, but she never planned to join the family business.

After leaving to pursue a career in fashion in Gothenburg, she missed the archipelago and decided to return and try diving six years ago.

Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

The career change has offered more than a livelihood, she says.

“As a young woman these days, you grow up in a very judgmental world and you constantly feel – or at least for myself – I constantly felt very judged by my looks,” she says. “This is really the opposite of that, no one judges me because of it.”

Klemming says she is currently the only woman diving for oysters in Sweden.

The Covid-19 pandemic has meant a hit to the business as restaurants that sell her oysters place fewer orders when customers stay at home.

Standing on the small pier in Grebbestad’s fog-covered harbour, Klemming says she has no plans to leave.

“One thing I will always do every single week – I want to dive. You can probably compare it with people doing yoga or meditation.”

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Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”