Danish government under fire in fisheries scandal

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
Danish government under fire in fisheries scandal
Photo: Henning Bagger/Scanpix

Denmark’s opposition Social Democrats as well as environmental organisations have strongly criticised irregularities in the management of fisheries quotas by the Danish government, after it called for criminal investigations into a number of fishing companies and so-called “quota kings”.


The National Audit Office (Rigsrevisionen) published earlier this week a damning report of the Ministry of Environment and Food’s management of fishing quotas dating back to the early 2000s, taking in several ministers and both Liberal and Social Democrat-led governments.

Administration of transferable fishing quotas by the ministry failed to prevent a limit on the number of so-called “quota kings”, the report said.

The report also states that the Ministry's inadequate management of quota ownership has resulted in several fishermen exceeding their catch quotas.

The administration was “highly criticisable,” the Audit Office wrote.

According to the report, the ministry used incomplete data over a number of years along with incorrect registrations of quota transactions and ownerships.

In a report published by broadcaster DR on Wednesday, the Audit Office was said to have concluded “a series of instances which do not just indicate insufficient administration by the ministry, but also illegalities”.

The 2002 fisheries reform implemented transferable fishing quotas in an initiative aimed at preventing overfishing.

In the period since, eight different ministers have had the final political say on the administration of the Danish fishing quotas – five from the Liberal (Venstre) party, the senior party in the present coalition government, and three from the Social Democrats.

On Tuesday – the day prior to the release of the report – the Danish Ministry of Environment and Food asked the police to initiate an investigation of a number of fishermen and fishing companies in Denmark.

Last week, Rasmussen removed fishing from the purview of Environment and Food minister Esben Lunde Larsen and transferred it to Karen Ellemann, the minister for equality and Nordic partnership.

READ ALSO: Pair of Danish politicians plagued by scandal

Esben Lunde Larsen. Photo: Sarah Christine Nørgaard/Scanpix

“Administration of the so-called transferable fishing quotas over a period of years has been unsatisfactory, and I must take stock of this,” Rasmussen said in a press release at the time.

Following the release of the report, the Social Democrats called for the quotas to be redistributed and reviewed on a monthly basis, DR reported on Wednesday.

“It is scandalous and completely unacceptable that an administration can develop in this way. There must now be firm political action. We want quotas to be spread between more fishermen again, and for parliament to tighten control with its governance of the fishing sector,” Social Democrat fisheries spokesperson Simon Kollerup told DR.

NGO Oceana, an international ocean conservation and advocacy organisation, said Denmark is one of the major contributors to the overfishing of the Western Baltic cod, and has historically been pushing for quotas much higher than scientifically recommended.

“Denmark has allocated the majority of its fishing quotas to a handful of 'quota-kings' and the public has every right to be outraged. The government and their ministers should serve the public and sustainable fisheries and not the short-term interest of a few industrial fishing companies. Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen took a step in the right direction by taking the fisheries portfolio away from Esben Lunde Larsen. Now he must stop the shady relationships between the Ministry and the fishing industry,” Oceana Europe’s executive director Lasse Gustavsson said in a press statement issued Wednesday.

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Oceana criticised politicians across Europe for ignoring scientific advice when setting annual fish catch limits, allowing overfishing to reach critical levels.

“Overfishing is directly linked to the influence of the fishing industry on policy makers, particularly the influence of the so-called quota kings. The modern fishing industry has no longer anything to do with the actual hard work of the individual fishermen, as many of us might imagine. It's a huge industry that costs a lot of money to maintain and it constantly demands higher fishing quotas despite what scientific advice recommends," said Henrike Semmler, a marine scientist and policy advisor working for Oceana in Copenhagen.

“Overfishing is one of the biggest threats to our oceans because it year by year reduces the number of fish available. It is a threat to marine ecosystems but also to the way of life of ordinary fishermen,” Semmler added.

A study published by Oceana in 2016 showed that in European seas, 64 percent of fish populations are currently being overfished.

In the Mediterranean Sea, the situation is even more dire, with overfishing reaching a level of 96 percent. 

READ ALSO: Danish policies threaten Baltic fishing communities


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