The Fisheries and Maritime Museum undertakes the role of special museum for Danish fishing industry
In Denmark, fishing has always played an important part in the daily lives of folk who live near the coast. From the fishing of herrings in the Middle Ages to the whalers of the 15th and 16th centuries, the importance of fishing catches has always been felt. Cod, salmon and eels have been caught with innumerable types of equipment throughout Denmark, and at the end of the 1800s, with the invention of the anchor seine and the rich supply of plaice, Denmark became one of the greatest fishing nations in the world.
Fishing has taken place along the entire Danish coast throughout history, and at times, has attracted workers from rural areas and towns. Probably the most famous is the large-scale fishing for herring in the waters of Øresund (the Sound) in the Middle Ages. It was normal practice to supplement one’s farming or work as a casual labourer with fishing, and only a few places such as Skagen and Harboøre had full-time fishermen.
Fishing with baited hooks on longlines was usual in Danish waters. As late as the early 20th century, longlines were used to catch cod off the west coast of Jutland, and on Bornholm, fishermen tied hooks on long, fixed lines – links – to catch salmon. Fishing with longlines was hard work, and on the west coast fishermen were dependent on skilled baiter-girls who would bait thousands of hooks every day in the fishing season. After 1880 fish could be sold in the cities of Europe thanks to the railway from west Jutland, and longline fishing expanded – but only for a brief period, as cutters with new equipment increased their range on the North Sea after 1900 and eventually dominated the Danish fishing industry since then. One key person in this development was a poor smallholder named Jens Væver, who invented a new fishing method – the anchor seine.
Soon the anchor seine was introduced by fishermen from north Jutland to the newly-constructed harbour in Esbjerg, and conditions in the North Sea off Esbjerg were particularly well-suited to fishing with the anchor seine. After 1900, Esbjerg became the most important Danish anchor seine harbour, and fishermen from all over Denmark flocked there to fish for plaice. Together with the new, effective motorised cutters, the new equipment invigorated Danish fisheries, and from 1920 to 1960 Danish fishermen and wooden cutters could be seen in nearly every fishing harbour around the North Sea. Anchor seining is the most original Danish contribution to the development of fishing in the world at large, but it lost its importance when the dismantling of fishing boats accelerated in the 1980s; since that time, fishing for plaice in the North Sea has been dominated by trawlers.
The age of wooden cutters on the North Sea lasted until the 1980s, when the fishing industry became increasingly regulated by quotas and other limitations. Many North Sea cutters started to fish for herring and other breeds for use as animal feedstuffs with trawl nets. This was called ‘trash fish’ or industrial fishing, and the catch was turned into fish meal and fish oil. Industrial fishing made a lot of money, and new, bigger steel fishing boats were built to replace the wooden vessels. While fishing grew even more effective, limitations were introduced so that fewer vessels had to share the work of catching fewer fish. Hundreds of light blue cutters were scrapped, and over 40 years the number of fishermen fell by 80%. In 2007 a new form of fisheries regulation was introduced to Denmark with individually transferable quota shares. This started a widespread development that concentrated quota shares among fewer fishing vessels and a renovation of the fishing fleet. The number of fishermen and vessels fell, whereas on the other hand, the profitability of fishing was improved for the majority of the remaining fishing businesses.