Thursday, 01 January 2015 00:00

Fishermen's guild is critical to the local community

The Thorupstrand Kystfiskerlaug (Thorupstrand coastal fishers’ guild) was established in 2006 in response to the restructuring in the Danish fishing sector which introduced transferable quotas and resulted in a degree of consolidation in the fleet.

Vessels belonging to fishers in the Thorupstrand coastal fishers’ guild on the beach. This is one of the few places left where vessels arrive and depart from the beach in contrast to a harbour.

In Denmark a system of transferable fishing concessions was implemented in 2003 for the pelagic and industrial fishing fleets and in 2007 a system of individual fishing rights was introduced for the demersal fishery, according to a 2012 report from the Institute of Food and Resource Economics by Jesper Levring Andersen.


Restructuring in fishery sector reduces vessel numbers and capacity

Individual vessel quota shares (VQS) were distributed to all vessels that earned more than EUR30,000 a year in the period 2003-2005. The restructuring in the fishing sector resulted in boat owners acquiring very valuable quotas, although the crew of the boat did not receive any part of this. Some fishers decided to sell their quotas and to pull out of the fishery resulting in a consolidation in the sector. The number of vessels earning more than EUR30,000 a year shrank from about 1,500 vessels in 2000 to 716 vessels in 2010. While the number earning less than EUR30,000 a year, a group comprised primarily of vessels less than 12 m in length, stayed more or less stable at 1,265 to 1,121 over the same period. At Thorupstrand, a small fishing village on the Danish west coast, the effect of the new regulatory regime was that the number of fishing vessels was reduced by almost 50%, from 20 vessels to 11. Fishermen that had worked on the boats in return for a share of the catch, were particularly hard hit as their livelihoods vanished leaving them with nothing. Thorupstrand was fortunate under the circumstances, in other villages, such as Lildstrand, the entire fleet disappeared removing an important source of economic activity for the whole community.

Ask Schlichting, the manager of the Thorupstrand coastal fishers’ guild (Thorupstrand Kystfiskerlaug)

Guild works on communal economic principles

In 2006 some 20 fishing families in Thorupstrand, both those with a share in a vessel and those without, formed a guild as a response to the changes wrought by the introduction of individual transferable fishing rights. From the outset the guild had a cooperative economic principle, with each member having a vote in decisions affecting the guild. The entrance fee of DKK100,000 to the guild paid by each member and the cooperative economic principle were security for a loan the guild received from a couple of banks, and for which the guild could buy quotas. These quotas were owned by the guild and rented out on an annual basis to the members, who all were entitled to rent the quota for a year. The rent goes to service the debt taken on by the guild to buy the quotas. Members may not trade or speculate in quotas for the benefit of individuals. And a fisher leaving the guild will only receive the DKK100,000 that he contributed in the first place. Any appreciation in the value of the quota thus stays with the guild. One of the advantages of the system is that it gives young fishermen without much capital a chance. They only have to pay DKK100,000 into the guild and then they can rent the quota they need. The alternative would be to spend millions of kroner buying quotas on the market, or of course, to move to the closest fishing harbour and get a job as a fisherman on a fishing vessel. For the share-owning fishermen the advantage of pooling the quota and then renting it is that the money they make from renting could contribute to pay for a new boat or new gear.

The vessels are launched from the beach in to the water and are pulled back by the bulldozer on to the beach when they return.
Fish is now processed at a facility owned by the guild. The fish can be sorted, graded, and filleted. Part-time workers from the village can be rapidly summoned by sms when a cargo of fish arrives.

Expanding into processing and retail sales

The Thorupstrand coastal fishers’ guild has now about 11 members and has expanded into processing and retail sales. By eliminating middlemen the guild hopes to secure its financial viability and it has therefore invested in a processing facility at Thorupstrand, a fishing village on the west coast of Denmark, where the guild is based. The processing facility has been equipped since February 2014 with a grader and a machine for the production of ice and here the fish as it comes of the boat can be graded, sorted, packed in boxes and iced. Other species such as crabs or other species of fish that get caught in the nets are also sorted out. Three former fishermen are responsible for the processing. Cod is cleaned on board the vessel says Ask Schlichting, the manager of the guild, unlike flat fish, which is cleaned after it is brought ashore. Thorupstrand is different from other fishing villages in that the boats are not in a harbour, but stand on the beach. When they go out they are dragged into the water from the shore and when they return they are pulled on to the beach. A huge and ancient winch is used to pull the boats in to the water, while a large bulldozer drags them on to the beach on their return. This is one of the last places in northern Europe where this is done, says Mr Schlichting, in contrast to 15 years ago, when all the beaches along the west coast of Jutland had boats on them like this. Then, even the boats were constructed in ways that took into account the kind of beach from which they would be launched. Today, however, most boats sail into harbours, but for the Thorupstrand fishermen the closest harbour is some distance away so they prefer to land on the beach.

Having the boats on the beach although picturesque is hardly practical. Filling them with supplies, launching them, beaching them again, and landing the catch, is more demanding than berthing in a harbour and unloading the fish there. But most of the fishermen are local residents and prefer to sail from and to their own village. Also, depending on where they are fishing, it may in fact be closer to return to the village rather than land the fish at a harbour. Thorupstrand is also fortunate because it is one of the places along the west coast of Jutland, where fishermen have the highest number of days at sea. This is because its geographic position shields it to some extent from the strong winds that are characteristic of the region and which often prevent the fishermen from going out to sea. A fisher from Thorupstrand may fish for a total of 200 days in the year spread out over the whole year, though December, January, and February are particularly stormy.

The guild has opened a fish shop in Thorupstrand, which sells fish-based light meals and sandwiches as well as fresh fish.


Sustainable catches of very high quality

The vessels of Thorupstrand fish exclusively with Danish seines and gillnets, gear that is protective of the environment. This kind of labour-intensive fishing results in a catch of very high quality – 95% is exported as Grade E (the highest possible) fish. The guild is trying to build on this – using the story behind its establishment, the fact that the fishery does no damage to the environment, is sustainable and the fish is of excellent quality – to promote the fish and sell it on markets far away from Thorupstrand, such as in Copenhagen. Here potential customers who are interested by the story and may be tempted to support a good cause may be more numerous than in other places. In keeping with its idea of eliminating the middleman, the guild has in fact organised its own retail outlet right in the centre of the city in one of the more exclusive areas. The shop is actually a refitted fishing vessel that sells a variety of fish both from Thorupstrand and elsewhere as the selection has to be large enough to attract customers. Ask Schlichting says the guild is working on providing more and even fresher fish to the shop. Ideally we would like to catch the fish and have it in shops and restaurants all over Denmark the next day. Right now a lot of the fish caught by the guild is sold at the auction in Hanstholm and the guild is trying to change this. But it takes time to build up a network of customers who know and appreciate the product and are willing to be flexible about species. The bulk of the catch is cod and flat fish, though another 10-12 species of fish are also caught and the composition of the catch often varies.

Thorupstrand does not offer a lot of economic opportunities, the fishery and activities associated with it are among the only sources of jobs in the village. So the sustainability of the fishery is directly linked to the sustainability of the whole community. Most of the fishers are full time fishermen, though some of them also do a little work on farms in the vicinity. Fishers or former fishers run the processing facility as well as a retail outlet the guild has established at Thorupstrand itself, where it is possible to both buy chilled fish, but also readymade sandwiches and light meals that use fish as the basic ingredient. A number of part-time workers from the village are summoned when the boats arrive to clean and fillet the fish. In a small village any source of jobs is crucial to the wellbeing of the community. To quite a degree the future of Thorupstrand depends on the future of the guild