by Thomas Jensen
DK l
  • Capital: Copenhagen
  • Population: 5.8 million (2021, Eurostat)
  • GDP: €312,5 billion (2020, Eurostat)
  • GDP/capita: €53 600 billion (2020, Eurostat)


Overview of the Danish fisheries and aquaculture sector 

Marine fisheries

DK Fish

The fishing industry plays significant role in the Danish economy. Fisheries constitute a very important economic activity in specific regions, e.g., in western and northern Jutland and on the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. Norwegian lobster in the Kattegat and blue mussels in Limfjord are also of significant local importance.

 The capture fisheries sector consists of the following three main categories:

  • the pelagic fishery for human consumption, mainly herring and mackerel stored in Cold Sea Water (CSW) tanks and landed whole;
  • the demersal fishery for white fish (cod, hake, haddock, whiting, saithe), flatfish (sole, plaice, flounder, etc.), Norway lobster, and deep water prawns; and
  • the industrial fishery for fishmeal and fish oil, mainly for sandeel, Norway pout, blue whiting, and sprat.

In 2020, the fishing fleet consisted of 2 033 vessels with a gross tonnage of 67 693 tonnes and a total power of 213 653 KW. A large proportion of the enterprises own a single vessel and the rest own two to five vessels. Small vessels represent the bulk of the fleet (79%), while vessels longer than 24 metres account for just over 3% yet represent more than 70% of the total gross tonnage. This segment mostly consists of large pelagic trawlers. Around 37% of Danish vessels are less than 12 metres and use set gillnets. The remaining 63% of the fleet is divided between purse seiners, multi-purpose vessels, and trawlers, and nearly 50% is classified as other. The regions of mid and north Jutland have the largest number of vessels registered (over 50% of the total fleet). They also contribute the greatest volume of gross tonnage (over 80%). Significant ports in these regions are Hanstholm, Hirtshals, and Skagen. In 2019 the number of fishing enterprises amounted to 929, employing 1 164 people in full time equivalent (FTE).

In 2020, the total catch by Danish vessels in ports amounted to 732 731 tonnes with a total value over €422 million. On average, the share of the catch for human consumption is around 35% of the total in volume and around 70% in value, and consists of pelagic fish (mainly herring and mackerel), demersal white fish (cod, hake, haddock, whiting, saithe), flatfish (sole, plaice, flounder), lobster, and deepwater prawn.

Inland fisheries

In Denmark, there are about 500 lakes and ponds, mostly small and shallow. The largest lake, Arresø (41 km²), is located on the island of Zealand. Only two rivers are longer than 100 km, and five are longer than 60 km, with the principal river being Gudenå at 158 km long. The main commercial inland fishing areas in Denmark also include Lake Arresø and the estuaries of Ringkøbing Fjord, Nissum Fjord, Limfjord, Randers Fjord and Isefjorden/Roskilde Fjord. There is also limited commercial fishing in 20–30 other lakes and a few rivers.

Inland fishery is distinguished from marine fishery by being “carried out in freshwater,” and professional fishing is distinguished from sport fishing by being “allowed to trade catch”. The main species in inland fisheries are eel, perch, bream, pike, pike-perch, and smelt. Commercial lake fisheries target eel, pike, pike-perch, and perch. There are also some small-scale fisheries for crayfish, mostly in small lakes and ponds. Commercial inland fisheries in Denmark are of minor importance, as catches have declined during the past 20–30 years.


DK Aqua

The main species farmed in Denmark is rainbow trout (Onchorhynchus mykiss), which constitutes approximately 60% of the total production, amounting in 2020 to 53 314 tonnes in volume and €167.8 million in value. In the past five years Denmark’s annual aquaculture production has been growing at an average rate of 4% annually.

Production is divided into two segments: land-based farms and sea cages. The tradition of land-based farming dates back to the mid-19th century. The techniques used today are ponds, raceways, and recirculation systems (RAS) producing small portion-size trout. In 2020 the share of trout production in RAS systems amounted to 30% of the country’s total aquaculture production. Another important freshwater species is the European eel (Anguilla anguilla), which is farmed in land-based recirculation units. Pike-perch, turbot, and salmon are among the other species farmed. Farmed freshwater fish is produced on 244 farms, of which most are freshwater farms primarily in Jutland. Sea cage farming in Denmark was introduced in the 1970s and now represents 23% of the total trout production. Production has been growing since 2008 and products include both meat and eggs. Around 70% of the farming takes place in the Baltic Sea area. Blue mussel farming (primarily on long suspended lines) is a new activity which started in 2006 and has been showing significant growth recently: the total volumes reached 7 831 tonnes in 2020 – a more than three-fold increase from 2016. Farming takes place mainly in the Limfjord in the northern part of Jutland, but also in the Skagerrak and Kattegat. In 2020 there were 650 full or part time employees in total in the aquaculture industry, of which over 75% were employed full time.

Processing and trade

DK Proc

Denmark is a large exporter of fish and seafood, although about 80% of Danish exports stay within the EU. Denmark is also a major importer of raw materials that are further processed and then exported. Most of the processing facilities are located in northern Jutland close to the major landing sites. Production volumes in recent years have fluctuated between 450 and 520 thousand tonnes. On average, fish meal and oil production is about 60% of the total volume. In 2019 the total value of processed products reached €2 217 million, and the total number of employees was 2 805 (FTE) across 88 factories. Fish meal and oil production (not for human consumption) amounts to an average 60% of the total volume of the processing sector’s output. Of products destined for human consumption, preserved and canned fish products are about 60% of the total volume. Fresh fillets are the second largest product group, reaching up to 18% on average, followed by smoked, salted, and dried products (16%), and frozen fillets (8%). Herring products account for up to 28%, salmon up to 25%, and cod up to 16% of the total volume of products for human consumption.

In 2020, Denmark imported fish and seafood valued at €2.3 billion. Norway was the main source of these imports (33%), followed by Greenland (26%), and Faroe Islands (3%).  Imports arrive either from foreign fishing vessels landing their catch in Danish fishing ports or from fish landed abroad that is then brought to Denmark by ship or lorry.

In 2020, exports of fish and seafood reached total value of €3.1 billion. The majority of these were destined for EU countries, with Germany as the largest single market, receiving 18% of the total value, followed by France (8%). Outside of the EU, the largest importer was China, with 9% of total value. The main exports included salmon, cod, and shrimp.  Fishmeal and fish oil, as well as freshwater fish and various shellfish, are significant as well.


Consumption of fisheries and aquaculture products in Denmark amounted to 22.1 kg per capita in 2019, about 3% less than in 2015. Cod, hake, herring, mackerel, and salmon were the most popular species.

Older age groups –  40 to 54 and over 55 years old – are the most regular consumers of fish in Denmark. Younger people are consuming considerably less fish; compared to the rest of Europe Denmark has one of the lowest numbers of regular seafood consumers in this age bracket.


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