In Denmark, fishing is undergoing a huge transformation in a small way. But how can a small country make a change?
First a little background into the state of the commercial fishing today.
The fishing industry or fishing sector is the economic activity of the primary sector which consists of fishing and producing fish, shellfish and other marine products for human consumption or as raw material of processes.
Here in most of the western world, it is a big industry with a few major players. This is true for most of the developed and developing markets worldwide. According to statistics from United Nations, Global fish production in 2001 was 130.2 million tons. In addition to commercial catches, 37.9 million tons were produced in aquaculture fish farms.
The largest production comes from the sea, however, where each country has an exclusive economic zone to navigate and fish, of 370.4 km (200 nautical miles) of extension of the coast towards offshore. Beyond that limit, the capture of marine species is free, as they are considered international waters.
In the years between 1990 and 2000 it became increasingly evident that the fishing exploitation severely decimated the populations of certain types of marine fish, such as cod, which could disappear in 15 years if it is harvested at the current pace.
A sector of the fishing industry that seems to remain in good health, though production is confined to a relatively small number of fishermen, is that of freshwater fishing in Canada. The commercial fishing industry in Manitoba is made up of about 3,500 fishermen who produce 25.95% of Canada's freshwater catches.
But how does that related to the danish fishing industry?
In Denmark small fishing boats feed the local community, create jobs and contribute to the preservation of ecosystems on European coasts. But can they compete with the big fishing industry, which has the means to put small boats out of business?
One reason the fish populations continue to be in decline is because of the large fish harvesting factories that can process the fish directly at sea, eliminating a need for a larger workforces through streamlined efficiency.
Many Danish fishermen are born into the work, with their profession, a family trade for generations. Everyday life for the fishermen is hard; with eleven hours on rough seas everyday.
While some give up on their family professions and seek easier more lucrative work elsewhere, others find ways to grow and thrive.
The work is hard on rough sea, confined to small boats. Their, a three-men crew can haul in 1,500 kilograms of fish on the North Western coast of Denmark. At one time a similarly sized crew would have expected large catches. Now large beam trawlers damage the seabed and take in the majority of fish.
Still, a small village is setting an old tradition forward with a twist that modern industrial fishing cannot match.
Landing on a sandy beach would destroy most modern ships but not the small oak boats built in region, constructed even before the Viking Age. Thorupstrand is a fishing village and has only a few hundred permanent residents, with several thousand residents in the surrounding area relying on the small fleet of oak fishing boats that depart from the village everyday for food.
These smaller wooden vessels use nets that only stay on the ground briefly, and are pulled up again before they have a chance to destroy the ocean's delicate ecosystem.
Small-scale fishing has always played a crucial role in many European regions, Denmark is not unique in this regard.
Such operations are crucial to the Mediterranean and Black Seas regions, small-scale fishing accounts for more more than three-quarter of the total active fishing fleet; an industry that accounts for more than fifty percent of the total workforce active in the fishing sector.
The European Union is aware of the importance of these small scale operation which is why in the last seven years alone, small-scale fishing companies received around 210 million euro in public funding to support sustainability and diversification projects in the region.
Unfortunately this was something that came too late for Denmark, which lost many of its independent fishing operations more than a decade ago to larger competition.
At the time, it was decided to assign fishing quotas to boat owners, this was a transferable resource which big companies were willing pay a lot of money to buy. At that time market prices exploded making it hard for small scale operators to enter and many independent fishermen sold their boats and quotas and gave up fishing altogether.
Coastal towns lost their boats and turned into ghost towns. Fearing for their future, Thorupstrand fishermen decided to take action. Through cooperation the local community preserved its fishing rights and traditional methods and cultural heritage including the trade of wooden boat making, which is famous, not just in Denmark but around the world.
The village even managed to expand its sales to the Danish capital, selling fresh fish in Copenhagen.
Through support of the local industry and the embrace of traditional techniques Thorupstrand has proven that small scale can make a big impact for both the environment and provide sustainability for the local workforce a the same time.
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