Opinion: Overfishing in Danish seas is bad for the environment and the economy

Denmark is one of the world's largest importers and exporters of fish and fish products. The Danish government should lead the way for ending overfishing in the EU, writes Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of Oceana in Europe.

Opinion: Overfishing in Danish seas is bad for the environment and the economy
A file photo showing fishing vessels at the harbour in Hanstholm, northern Jutland. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

Every year the European Commission (EC) publishes its annual proposal for fishing limits. The proposal from the Commission should be based on scientific advice, but, this isn’t always the case and as a result we have had decades of overfishing in EU waters. 

This is jeopardising the future of fisheries and our common resource: fish, and is therefore hugely relevant for Denmark, one of the world's largest importers and exporters of fish and fish products.

If Danish fisheries were healthy and well managed over the next ten years, the total revenues in the fishing sector would increase by at least 248 million euros (1.8 billion kroner) and in the direct fishing industry alone 900 new jobs would be created.

But reading through the Commission’s fishing opportunities proposal for 2019 for Baltic Sea fish stocks, it becomes clear that the EC is yet again abandoning its responsibilities. For example, quota for the very fragile eastern Baltic cod stock significantly surpasses scientific recommendation, and for western Baltic cod the Commission proposes to remove the current closure period. 

Given that just two years ago the stock was considered in very bad status, this move from the Commission makes neither ecological nor economical sense. 

What we need to remember is that overfishing isn’t just bad for the environment, it’s bad for the economy too. Mismanaging natural, renewable resources destroys our natural marine heritage and costs us jobs, food, and money.

The short-term thinking, symptomatic for politicians whose only time-frame is the next elections, is proving to be detrimental for a sustainable resource like fish. In just ten years, the commercial catches of the Western Baltic cod stock have dropped by more than half, largely due to overexploitation. The legal deadline to reach sustainability is just two years away and our politicians are still making excuses for this outrageous waste. 

As several Oceana studies have concluded, we are losing out on the opportunity for more food, jobs and money from our fisheries. Healthy and well-managed EU fish stocks have in fact the potential to produce almost 60 percent more – equivalent to two million tonnes – sustainable fish annually and create 92,000 new jobs at the same time. So the future for European fisheries is bright if we rebuild our fish stocks to their full potential and transition to sustainable fishing. 

All we need to do is follow a simple recipe: set catch limits according to scientific advice, protect the places where fish breed and grow, and end destructive fishing practices like bottom trawling.

We simply cannot afford to continue neglecting the Baltic Sea, for the sake of the environment as well as the well-being of the people that depend on a healthy and profitable sea.

To the Ministers responsible for fishing in the EU all I can say is this: The future of fishing in the Baltic Sea is in your hands. It is time to get real about the Baltic Sea, or stop pretending.

Lasse Gustavsson is the Executive Director of Oceana in Europe, the world’s largest international advocacy organisation focused solely on marine conservation.

READ ALSO: Danish PM Rasmussen denies wrongdoing in hearing over fishing quotas


How likely is Denmark to have a general election ahead of schedule?

Analysts in Denmark say Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen could announce a general election as early as next week, despite flagging poll numbers.

How likely is Denmark to have a general election ahead of schedule?

Speculation suggests that Frederiksen will announce an election, which could take place by October but possibly earlier, when the Social Democrats convene next week for their summer group meeting. 

Legally, the next general election can take place as late as June 4th, 2023. 

But despite worsening polls, a general election in Denmark this autumn now appears likely due to increasing pressure on Frederiksen from other parties and heightened criticism of her government.

“It will not be possible to make any new, broad political agreements on this side of a general election. There’s no willingness to compromise between parties. So Danish politics is already frozen by the election campaign, even though it hasn’t been formally announced yet,” TV2’s political editor Hans Redder said last week.

Redder said it was “relatively probable” that Frederiksen will announce an election in August.

“The political season begins next week. Several parties will have their summer group meetings and start calling press briefings. So it’s just a question of which date Mette Frederiksen decides on,” Redder said.

The Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party, which is an ally of the government, has demanded Frederiksen call a general election by October 4th.

Although a new general election is not due until next year, the Social Liberals earlier in the summer said they wanted an election by October after the government and Frederiksen were severely criticised earlier this summer in an official inquiry into the mink scandal.

The Social Liberals have the ability to bring down the government by withdrawing their support for Frederiksen and bringing an no confidence motion in parliament, although it’s not certain they would actually do this.

In addition to the mink scandal, Frederiksen’s government has been damaged by a high-profile case centred around leaks at intelligence service Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE), as well as broader criticism of her leadership style.

“(Frederiksen) really needs some wins and we have not heard much about what their election platform will be. That will come when the 2030 (political) plan is presented,” political analyst Hans Engell told news wire Ritzau.

“Bad opinion polls are not conducive to an early general election and it doesn’t seem as though there is complete clarity over their 2030 plan. They are probably keeping all their options open,” he said.

Talk of an early election comes despite poll numbers looking as bad for the government as they have at any time since they came to power in 2019.

A new opinion poll by Voxmeter for news agency Ritzau on Monday gave the Social Democrats their worst showing since 2015. 

The ‘blue bloc’ — anchored by the Liberal party (Venstre) and the Conservative party — command 50 percent of the vote according to the latest poll.

Meanwhile, the government’s ‘red bloc’ holds just 47.5 percent. 

The demands that Frederiksen hold elections by October at the latest come from the Social Liberals, also of the red bloc.

The ‘bloc’ classification commonly referred to in Danish politics broadly denotes whether parties are right or left of centre.

‘Blue bloc’ parties will usually work together in parliament and back the leader of the Liberal party to be prime minister if they can command a majority after a general election. The ‘red bloc’ will usually support the Social Democratic leader to become PM, as is currently the case with Frederiksen.

READ ALSO: Danish PM Frederiksen loses majority in ‘neck and neck’ new poll