The Fisheries and Maritime Museum/Seawater Aquarium in
Esbjerg will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of its official
opening in 2008. The first ideas for a museum resembling
what became the Fisheries and Maritime Museum were
outlined by the author Hakon Mielche in 1941. But it took
almost 20 years before serious steps were taken to bring
Mielche’s ideas to fruition with the creation of the “Associa-
tion for the Fisheries and Maritime Museum” in 1962. The
association had two main objectives. Firstly, a nationwide
Danish fisheries collection was to be built up; and secondly,
a museum was to be created to house this collection. With a
combination of strongly focused efforts and a sympathetic
attitude on the part of the City of Esbjerg, both objectives
were achieved within relatively few years. The Fisheries
and Maritime Museum opened on 24 April 1968 as the City
of Esbjerg’s gift to the city’s residents on the occasion of
Esbjerg Harbour’s hundredth anniversary.
On its opening, the museum comprised a hall with dis-
plays on the history and development of the Danish fishing
industry, and a seawater aquarium where the catches could
be studied alive. The museum carried out an ongoing com-
prehensive research programme which found expression in
special exhibitions and publications, and it was among the
first institutions in Denmark to apply the concept of modern-
day documentation, with films and photos of the fishing
industry of the time. This pioneering initiative was follo-
wed up in other areas. The Fisheries and Maritime Museum
quickly established a schools service, and the purchase of a
fishing boat in 1971 also helped to establish a distinct nature
guide scheme which provided guests with entirely different
experiences from those to be enjoyed in the museum’s dis-
plays. The museum’s status as pioneer was confirmed in
earnest when the museum was extended in 1976 to include
a so-called “sealarium”, which housed a big water tank with
live seals and a smaller section where abandoned wild seal
pups could be raised until they could be returned to the wild.
The Danish seal population was then quite modest, and the
scientists’ work with the sealarium’s seals was followed by
a big public. The museum’s seal research, which in time
also came to include field studies, was rewarded in 1988
with the WWF’s annual prize.
The museum was increasingly constricted in the late
1980s by lack of space, increased competition among at-
tractions in Denmark, and limited financial freedom to ma-
noeuvre resulting from its close association with the mu-
nicipal economy. The museum’s activities were therefore
redefined. Its area of responsibility was placed under the
common theme “Man and the Sea”. At the same time, con-
cepts were introduced on stepwise extension of the muse-
um’s research, communication and physical framework, on
networking as a form of work, on strengthening research
via university partnership and increased participation in in-
ternational research forums, and on the museum as an at-
traction and business enterprise. The results included the
opening of the Fisheries and Maritime Museum’s open air
section (1989), increased freedom to manoeuvre via an eco-
nomic decentralisation agreement with the City of Esbjerg
(1990), presentation and adoption of the Fisheries and Ma-
ritime Museum’s stepwise extension plan (1993-95), estab-
lishment of the Centre for Maritime and Regional Studies
(1994), erection of a new museum cube (1997/98), opening
of a permanent maritime exhibition (1999), opening of a
semi-permanent offshore exhibition (2001), construction of
a new aquarium (2001/02), and extension and taking over
of the running of the cafeteria (2006) and opening of a new
type of maritime playground which is also suitable for the
disabled (2007).
In 2006 the Fisheries and Maritime Museum became a
four-star Danish tourist attraction and was approved in the
same year under Section 16 of the Danish Museums Act
covering museums which perform duties of national signi-
ficance. The museum’s research, communication and pub-
lishing activities have also contributed to its recognition
beyond Denmark and placed it in international research and
museum networks. With its international orientation and
local roots, the Fisheries and Maritime Museum remains a
museum with possibilities and future plans. It is a healthy
forty year-old which, in 2007, welcomed its six millionth
guest since its opening in 1968.
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