Reconquering the Danish Seas

Denmark | Jutland | Thorup Strand

This is the story of a whole community, which has chosen to welcome and value young people by involving them in a farsighted project, forging an alliance between the generations for a productive, shared and socially fair future.

We’re talking about the Thorup Strand association, founded in 2006 by the fishing community in the town of the same name in northern Jutland, in response to the policy of privatizing fishing quotas introduced by the Danish government. With privatization, a whole community that had previously based its economy on catching cod and plaice using traditional methods risked seeing its access to the sea cut off. Drawing on a spirit of initiative and a collective vision of the future, the community was able to organize a response, by starting an association whose members who pay fixed dues and include both fishing boat owners and crew members. With these funds, the group was able to invest in a good number of fishing quotas, which are managed collectively. This ensures that the community can keep fishing, and helps keep external investments at bay.

“The association distributes the quotas to all the group’s members.Skippers and crew members, young people and veterans: Everyone pays the same amount to join, around 100.000 kroner, just over 13.000 euros, which is returned if you decide to leave the group, so that any possible increase in the value of the quotas is kept within the association and owned collectively. This is the system that allows us to dream of a future in fishing. In other places, the quotas are too expensive for anyone who wants to start fishing, but this is the key to the success of our project: Here all you need is a few euros and a boat!”, explains one of the project’s key participants, young Jesper Olsen, who, with another young man, Michael Kristensen, believes in the project.

At Thorup Strand many are under 40, and plenty are under 30. Some, like Michael, work on board, while others are kept busy receiving the fish on land and selling it, for example from a small shop on a traditional fishing boat anchored in Copenhagen. It is there that people come into contact not just with products, but can also learn about the association and its work. With this approach, the association guarantees a place for everyone, as everyone can always works on new projects ranging from communication to the search for new markets, from publicizing the culture of fishing to processing the catch.

Every afternoon, when the boats come in, the fish is collected at a warehouse a few meters from the dock, where the cooperative’s young members put it on ice and prepare it for sale at the local auction. From here, most of the fish is exported to other European countries. But this is about to change, thanks to the group’s entrepreneurial spirit. Jesper tells us more.

“Some time ago we were talking about how to expand the local market. It was something we felt we had to do, partly to allow our own neighbors to have excellent fish, caught locally and with respect for the sea and the marine life cycle. So we decided to invite the two top managers of the Danish Coop supermarkets on board, to explain to them what we were doing and what we could offer to the local market. To our amazement they accepted our invitation, and soon we’re going to be launching a project that will finally bring our high-quality fish to many tables.”

Article first published in La Repubblica Milano, June 4 2015

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