Just a few years ago, Danish fishermen faced the situation of being the biggest EU exporter of fish and seafood, and still running a far from profitable business. Overcapacity was the biggest problem, and transferable rights have been the solution, Danish experts now say, looking at a balanced situation.
With an overcapacity of 30 percent and profitability leaking, fishermen and politicians soon saw a new structure as really the only way forward. As a result, Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs) were introduced into the pelagic sector in 2003, and a system with Vessel Quota Shares (VQSs) into the demersal sector in 2007.
The objectives were manifold: to balance capacity with fishing opportunities, to create room to promote social causes, and – most of all – to reduce discards, and thereby enhance long-term sustainability.
A special clause was aimed at encouraging coastal fishing: vessels that were less than 17 metres and subscribed to rules restricting the lengths of their periods at sea could receive an extra allocation of cod and sole.
ITQs could be sold to other individuals and VQSs to other vessels, however VQSs for coastal vessels could only be sold to other coastal vessels.
To increase flexibility, a possibility was later introduced for share owners to join pools, and almost 80 percent of the VQS vessels now belong to such pools. By reducing discards and providing the fishermen in the pool an incentive to bring all caught fish to land, this has also contributed to scientists having a better basis for catch assessment, and, consequently, more accurate stock predictions.
The first results of the system were laid out for the Danish Folketing (Parliament) this spring, showing that in two years a 30 percent overcapacity in the demersal fleet had vanished, the report emphasising that this had been accomplished without scrapping schemes financed with tax money.
Taking into account falling prices on fish and rising prices on fuel, as well as the current global financial crisis, Danish experts say that earnings are today acceptable, and that the fishermen are overwhelmingly in favour of the new system.
It is now expected that Denmark will be a strong proponent of ITQs and VQSs in the discussions leading up to a new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) for the European Union in 2012.