The Danish Fishermen Producer Organisation has a series of hurdles to overcome

EM2 21 GP KennA voice for Denmark’s fishermen

This article was featured in EUROFISH Magazine 2 2021.

Danish fisheries contributed some DKK14bn (EUR1.8bn) in 2018 to the nation’s GDP. The sector is an important source of export earnings as well as of livelihoods in coastal communities. The Danish Fishermen Producer Organisation (DFPO) is the national organisation representing the fisheries sector through some 32 local associations across the country. Vessels of all kinds, both large and small, and using different gears, are part of the organisation, whose main objective is to safeguard its members interests. This includes shaping fishery policies, providing advice to the members, and promoting the sale of fish to consumers. Danish fisheries face some headwinds at the moment as it digests the implications of Brexit, suffers from the pandemic-induced loss of the international food service market, and comes to terms with the evaporation of cod quotas in the eastern Baltic. Kenn Skau Fischer, managing director of the organisation since 2019, discusses some of these challenges.

 

The bilateral fish and seafood trade between Denmark and the UK amounted to over DKK2bn and a further DKK214m worth of fish was landed by Danish vessels from British waters in 2019. What are the likely consequences of Brexit on this trade? With the EU-UK agreement has DFPO achieved its key demands for unchanged quota distribution and access to UK waters?

The agreement between the UK and the UK has come at a very high price for the European fisheries. The EU fisheries has to pay 25 percent of the value of the fishing in UK waters through a transfer of quotas to the UK. This is a very high price, indeed too high a price, to pay. For this we are getting access to UK waters. This access is important for some fisheries—though not so much for the demersal catches. Access to UK waters is a continued priority for us and we will of course follow closely any changes to the conditions for access that might come up.

We hope that, despite the divorce, we can continue the constructive cooperation with the UK fishers that we have developed over the years as we have much in common.

Having said that, UK is now not part of the EU and we might find it more difficult to continue trade and cooperation as in the past—and I could imagine that some of our trade would stay in the internal market of the EU as this is a bigger market than the UK market.

Electronic monitoring using cameras to keep track of fishing operations is used in fisheries in Spain, Canada, and the US among other countries, and trials have been conducted in Denmark. Fishers are not enthusiastic, but do you see this as a technology with potential?

CCTV can work in the fishery as an alternative control measure if fishers are given incentives to use them, i.e. more in-real-time-updated quotas, higher prices, more flexible technical measures, or less of other control measures. As a control element on top of all the other control elements this is merely a way to drive all the smaller vessels out of fishing. The EU fisheries policy is not geared for such an inflexible control measure. It is shooting sparrows with cannons considering all the bureaucracy that follows with the CCTV solution. Also, note that a country like Norway does not consider it necessary to use CCTV as part of its fisheries regulation.

The covid-19 pandemic has shut down hotels, restaurants, catering establishments and the ­tourist trade across Europe. How has the Danish fishing sector responded to the loss of these markets? Do you see a positive side to the pandemic, for example, in terms of new sales and distribution channels, product development, or greater use of the internet?

Fortunately, Covid-19 has not had much influence on the pelagic or the industrial fishery for fishmeal and fish oil here in Demark, but the market for Danish fresh fish normally demanded by restaurants and catering all over Europe has been hit hard. Gross revenue in the demersal fisheries and among shellfish fishers went down 30 percent in 2020 compared to the year before.

However, more people are also cooking more now compared to a couple of years ago and I understand more Danes have started asking for more different fish when they are cooking—more sales to consumes today goes through internet shops with delivery at people’s home. This is a very positive development—and makes the relation between fishers and consumers closer.

EM2 21 GP Kenn2The precarious state of the cod stock in the eastern Baltic has reduced TACs to virtually nothing this year after falling heavily last year. Prospects for an increase in the near future are slim. How many Danish fishers are affected by this development and what could a possible solution look like?

The development for the stock of eastern Baltic Sea cod is a disaster for nature and the fisheries. It shows how important a truly ecosystem-based management is and more important the consequences of a non-healthy marine environment. It will take years for this stock to recover—and I guess that we will only see such change if the countries around the Baltic get together to seriously reduce pollution—the flow of nutrients into the sea must be reduced. The levels of salinity are also an issue. Finally, controlling the seal stocks must be part of the ecosystem management—if not, it is hard to see a recovery of the stock.

Over the years many of our fishers have been driven out of the fisheries in the Baltic Sea following the state of the stock for eastern cod. Some have been able to go fishing in other waters, others have given up and many are looking for a way out of the fisheries. For the moment there is not much to offer the fishers traditionally targeting eastern cod, but I think that many still hope that the stock will bounce back in a couple of years.

The ban on discards and the introduction of the landing obligation were intended to reduce the practice of discarding and increase gear selectivity to make fishing more sustainable. Most Danish fishers are indifferent to the landing obligation and it is difficult to enforce by inspectors as suggested by a DTU AQUA thesis (1). Do you feel it should be implemented differently or scrapped altogether and replaced with something else?

The landing obligation is not an objective for the EU fisheries policy. It is another conservation measure. Unfortunately, this is been forgotten in the EU where many seems to consider the landing obligation as the answer to everything and the overall objective of the CFP. Having said that I think that within the regionalised approach in the CFP a lot of work has been done to make the landing obligation function and I also think that more and more fishers everyday are trying to live up to the provisions of the landing obligation. We are in a positive process, I think. However, the landing obligation will never be fully implemented—if you do not have some kind of flexibility as part of the provisions. ­Fishers will always have unintentional bycatches. They have realised that in Norway and other countries.

Many of the Danish fisheries are certified to the MSC standard, a process that has taken several years. Last year Svend-Erik Andersen, chairman of DFPO, aired the idea of a national label that could replace MSC. What would be the difference between the new label and the MSC? How has the idea been received by DFPO members? Given other countries’ generally poor record of developing national labels, why should it be different in Denmark?

We have worked hard to get MSC certification for as many of our fisheries here in Denmark as possible. We have achieved a lot and are one of the most MSC certified countries in the world. We are proud of this as it is truly a commitment to sustainable fisheries. However, one of the challenges with the MSC is that despite abiding as a fisher or a group of fishers or a country with every requirement of the certification—you might be the most sustainable fisher in the world—if countries cannot agree on the revision of a management plan for a stock or states cannot agree about the sharing of the stock you will lose your MSC certification.

What is needed is a certification scheme that encourages and gives the individual fisher some benefit when she or he is committed as much as possible to a sustainable fishery. The state of play of a management plan or the stock is irrelevant as such—it is the behaviour of the single fisher that should be relevant for the certification. Note that we are also not talking about some gear being better than others—what we are talking about is that fishers—small vessels as well large ones—through a certification scheme should be encouraged to a strong commitment to sustainable fishery.

The number of vessels in the Danish fleet has declined gradually but steadily over the last couple of decades. Do you foresee this trend continuing? What are the reasons behind this development and what are its potential consequences?

Yes, without doubt, unfortunately. We will have fewer and fewer fishing vessels in Denmark. One reason is the access to waters following Brexit. Another reason is the competition for access to the sea (windmills and raw material). A third reason is the ongoing work in all countries on MPAs (marine protected areas). There is and will simply be less space for the fisheries on the sea. Fourthly, many of our fishers are simply giving up the fight against bureaucracy, as they see it. The load of paperwork and reporting following the CFP is very hard on the 1-2 person vessels. All in all, fishers in Denmark have started pushing for a decommissioning scheme. Furthermore, the financial sector also plays an important role as regards the structural development of fisheries—often pushing for larger entities with better economy.

The average age of Danish fishers has been rising consistently, despite the fact that their number has also increased slightly since 2012. This suggests that not enough young people are joining the profession. What are the incentives youngsters need to attract them to this business—which is needed to secure the future of the sector?

We have a collective scheme for recruiting young people to our fishing school in Thyborøn, where we have a very fine education for fishers by international standard. We are proud of the school and we have no problem recruiting students from all over Denmark thanks to a campaign on social media designed specially to connect with young people.

The problem, however, is keeping the young fishers in the sector. Though earnings in general are good in the fisheries, we compete with the merchant fleet, the energy sector at sea, and the ancillary industry to the energy sector, where it is probably easier to find an 8 to 4 job.

Furthermore, it is not easy and certainly costly to gain a foothold on your own deck. It is a real challenge to our sector that it can be difficult to make generational change for a family-owned vessel and therefore we are trying to put this high on the agenda when discussing fisheries matters with our politicians.

Landings of fish for human consumption have fallen since 2016 and though the unit price has increased revenues have declined. The quality of Danish food fish catches is very high, but are fishers considering ways of adding more value to the catch?

The quotas for several of our important species have been reduced in recent years following negative developments in the stocks. That is a challenge—especially when demand like the last year following the corona-pandemic has been low. We need to try to increase the demand for our fish at national and international level. The demand for fresh fish is still disappointingly low in Denmark.

We also need to try to add more value to the catch to the benefit of the vessels. This is a challenge, as fishers in general are small players compared to the seafood industry and so far it has proven difficult to ask the supermarkets and consumers to pay more for certified fish or fish caught using certain gear. However, most fishers would be happy to do a little extra if that could give them a better price for the fish.

You were appointed director of DFPO in 2019. What is your vision for the segment of the Danish fishery that the organisation represents, and for DFPO itself? What is the most important goal you have you set yourself and how do you propose to achieve it?

My organisation has 688 vessel members and we are proud of being among the largest producer organisations in Europe. We represent all types of fisheries from small coastal vessels to larger vessels fishing in the open sea. We represent the community in most of the Danish fishing harbours. We aim for a better EU fisheries policy with more responsibility left to the fishers.

For me a very important goal is a general recognition of the fact that a sustainable fishery is climate friendly and goes hand in hand with the green agenda. The fishing sector has, more than anyone, good reasons to ask for a healthy marine environment.

We will of course have to take our share of the responsibility considering our daily life in the marine environment. But we cannot do this on our own. We need not only a close dialogue and cooperation within the fishery sector but certainly also with the authorities and the NGOs, nationally as well as at the international level.


(1) *Schreiber Plet-Hansen, K. (2020). Fisheries data from electronic monitoring and traceability systems in the context of the EU landing obligation. Technical University of Denmark.

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