was having a serious impact on the local environment. The
authorities accordingly decided in late 1972 to discontinue
the practice, instead permitting the company to dump its
waste water in the North Sea. Grindstedværket was ready to
begin its new procedure by 12 June 1973, but the authorities
had neglected to ask the local fishermen for their opinion
when issuing the dumping licence. The reaction from the
fishermen was prompt. In a spontaneous protest, they sailed
their cutters into the basin where
, the wastewater
tanker owned by Grindstedværket, was being filled, and
simply blocked its departure from the port.
There was a fierce struggle to set the agenda over the
following month between the three main players involved in
the protest, one of which was the newly established ministry
for pollution control headed by the young neophyte minister
Jens Kampmann. Another was the Esbjerg fishermen and
the fisheries organisations backed by the media and various
groups focused on environmentalism. The third was Grind-
stedværket, backed by government, local authorities and the
Grindsted community. The strategies used by these players
to take over the agenda varied somewhat. To Kampmann,
the blockade presented a threefold dilemma. He was under
pressure from the angry fishermen, he was under pressure
from Grindstedværket and its 1,200 or so employees, and
he was under pressure from his own decision to ban the
discharges in Kærgaard Plantage and allow dumping at sea.
The problem for Kampmann was that reversing his own
decision would cost him political prestige, which neither
he nor the ministry could afford. In his capacity as head of
the environmental authority, Kampmann decided to support
Grindstedværket’s claim, namely that the fishermen’s
blockade was illegal and that it presented a dire threat to
the workers, the local economy and the chemical industry
in general. This view was not, however, in tune with public
opinion, as became increasingly clear when most of the
media backed the fishermen. Realising they were fighting a
losing battle, the management of Grindstedværket attempted
to win over public opinion at one point during the protest via
a grand media campaign, but on failing, the management
quickly returned to its policy of threats, stressing that if
the fishermen did not comply with the law and raise the
blockade, there would be consequences in terms of lost jobs
as well as a setback for the local economy and the important
export-oriented chemical sector.
More than three weeks into the blockade the situation
was still at a deadlock, but then it was all over in a matter
of days. The sudden solution appeared when, on 10 July,
Arne Schiøtz, the director of Denmark’s Aquarium,
published an article in a leading newspaper questioning the
minister’s trustworthiness. The background was that the
report made before the dumping licence was issued could
only be interpreted as a recommendation against dumping,
while throughout the crises, Kampmann had insisted that
the experts were backing the decision to dump in the North
Sea. In short, wittingly or unwittingly, Kampmann and his
ministry had misinterpreted the report, and hence misled the
public. A press conference was called on the next day in the
Prime Minister’s Department, during which the report was
made public. It was also announced that Grindstedværket
had agreed to dump its waste in the Atlantic, as suggested
by the fishermen. The battle was over, the fishermen had
won, and they raised the blockade that afternoon.
This outcome favouring environmental protection over
industrial interests was a new step, but perhaps not all that
surprising. Public opinion in the late 1960s and 1970s
was changing. A keen effort by environmental groups had
generated a setting in which environmental issues could
be addressed. In this setting, pollution problems which
posed a threat to particular species had a special appeal
compared with other, often somewhat abstract pollution
problems. The problems were more easily understood by
the public. The Esbjerg fishermen’s protest thus fitted into
the “environmental scene” well, and at the same time it had
a formative effect. The blockade, widely covered by media,
made it clear to a majority of the general public that a more
responsible official policy was called for, not just concerning
marine pollution, but pollution in general.
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