Empowering Communities

Good Relationships Empower Communities: Lessons Learned from Thorupstrand

Welcome to part two of Hannah’s blog series on her bursary-funded trip to Denmark. This week Hannah takes us to Thorupstrand and Lildstrand, two small Danish fishing communities, to learn about how good relationships, and working together, can help generate lasting change.

Hannah’s trip was funded by the Fisheries Innovation Scotland International Travel Bursary which is still open for applications. So head over to their website to learn more about how you can get your study trip funded.

By Hannah Fennell, Orkney Fisheries Association.

Fishing communities make up the backbone of the fishing industry, and too often bear the brunt of any negative impacts from changes to fisheries management. In Denmark the privatisation of quota as well as the introduction of a decommissioning scheme has had very different impacts on two very similar communities.

Historically the coast of northern Jutland, Denmark, has been the home to hundreds of small fishing communities. However, a changing political landscape coupled with the introduction of the quota system and decommissioning scheme contributed to the demise of many of these towns. Ninety miles west of the largest city in the region, Hirtshals, lies two small towns: Thorupstrand and Lildstrand. Both communities have a strong fishing history characterised by high levels of co-operation between individual fishermen, reflected in the number of shared resources used by the local industries. Like many fishing towns in northern Jutland, both Lildstrand and Thorupstrand lack harbours and instead winch their traditional clinker-craft boats onto the shore every evening. Both Lildstrand and Thorupstrand’s winches were owned and used collectively by the local fishermen, and both had stretches of land near their beaches which the fishermen would use to store their gear. The privatisation of quota and the European-wide decommissioning scheme tested these relationships and ultimately, the communities themselves.

In Lildstrand the decommissioning scheme resulted in many fishers decommissioning their boats and selling their quota outside the community. This impacted those who remained as they were placed under increased financial pressures to maintain the collectively-owned structures. The ramifications of the decision of the first fishers to leave the industry had a snowball effect, and ultimately the majority of skippers retired from fishing, almost destroying Lildstrand’s fishing industry.

The fate of Lildstrand stands in stark contrast to the town of Thorupstrand, a few miles along the coast.  Having seen what happened to their neighbours the Thorupstrand fishermen were determined not to suffer the same fate. They drew upon their experiences of working together and of running community-owned resources, to set up a common quota company through which they bought more quota to add  to a common pool – helping secure their own future as well as the future of the next generation. Unusually in schemes like this, all members of Thorupstrand’s fishing industry benefitted from the common pool as everyone in the industry could become a member and to have a say: boat owners, skippers, and crew.

The ability of the Thorupstrand fishermen to work together enhanced their sense of community and identity, which, combined with their traditional fishing methods, has captured the imagination of the public (culminating in the creation of a television series following the lives of some of the local fishermen). Additionally, the local industry was able to use its connection to the anthropologist Thomas Højrup to amplify their voice and enter national and international decision-making processes. 

Højrup is a professor of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen and, being from Thorupstrand, took a keen interest in how changes to fisheries management has impacted his community and others like it. He and his students began a series of projects with the town, culminating in the production of the report The Need for Common Goods for Coastal Communities (which can be viewed online). The report explores how the privatisation of fishing rights influenced the environmental, social, and economic health of fishing communities, and has garnered the attention of national and international decision makers, including members of the EU parliament who visited the town.

The contrasting fates between Lildstrand and Thorupstrand show the importance of strong relationships both within a community and across scales. By working together and harnessing their sense of identity, the fishermen of Thorupstrand were able to command nation-wide attention and become a representative for the struggles of small fishing communities throughout Europe.

Thumbnail image: Alex Berger