A Dutch pulse trawler in the North Sea

Electric fishing — New complaint from BLOOM and European Ombudsman’s inquiry into the European Commission’s failure to fulfil its obligations

Far from being resolved, the electric fishing case continues to reflect the European Union’s serious dysfunctions. While the new Regulation that came into force in August 2019 formally prohibits the granting of further derogations, Germany — which assumes the Presidency of the Council of the Union since early July — disregarded this point. Furthermore, the European Commission continues to ignore the undeniably illegal number of Dutch vessels engaged in electric fishing. BLOOM has thus once again filed a complaint with the European Commission, this time against Germany, and has, in parallel, obtained an inquiry from the European Ombudsman into the failure of the European Commission to fulfill its role as Guardian of the Treaties. A preposterous process which we hope to see through one day…

Germany: the falsely exemplary country

The new Regulation that came into force in August 2019 provides for a ban on electric fishing in two stages: first a drastic reduction in the number of vessels practicing this destructive fishing method[1] — with no possibility to equip new vessels — and then a total and definitive ban on the remaining vessels in June 2021. At the beginning of April 2020, Germany breached one of these fundamental principles by granting a derogation to a new vessel, the BRA-2 BUTENDIEK.[2] But Germany assumes the Presidency of the Council of the European Union since July 2020. It is more than problematic that this country is in such a clear breach of the regulation, while its behaviour should be absolutely exemplary“, explains Frédéric Le Manach, Scientific Director of BLOOM.

German flags, Dutch capital.

Germany clearly is not at its first attempt at collusion between industrial interests and political decision-makers. This was recently revealed, for example, by the NGO Corporate Europe Observatory in a biting report, which points to the colossal weight of Dutch fishing giant Parlevliet van der Plas in the German fishing industry. The BRA-2 BUTENDIEK is no exception to this rule, given that it too is owned by Dutch capital, just like the other electric trawlers under German flag.[3] This strategy of investing in foreign vessels — German but also British — was used on several occasions by Dutch companies to exceed even further the regulatory limit on the number of electric trawlers, already blatantly violated, which was supposed to be imposed on them. BLOOM had already filed two complaints against the Netherlands with the European Commission.[4] These remained unsatisfactorily answered.

An inquiry by the European Ombudsman

On 18 September 2019, our last complaint to the European Commission against the Netherlands — the sole instigators and promoters of electric fishing — was about the still illegal number of Dutch electric trawlers. The European Commission’s inaction on this matter is unacceptable, as it had acknowledged on 1 February 2019 that the Netherlands was in breach. A formal infringement procedure was supposed to be opened against the Netherlands, but no news has been received since then. “How can the Commission, as Guardian of the Treaties, continue to turn a blind eye to these repeated infringements? It is as if it were incapable of calculating a simple percentage. In reality, instead of acknowledging its shortcomings, it is continuing its headlong rush to protect a fraudulent industry that is endangering marine ecosystems and small-scale coastal fishing“, says Laetitia Bisiaux, in charge of the ‘electric fishing’ dossier at BLOOM.

Given the deliberate inaction of the Commission,[5] BLOOM referred the matter to the European Ombudsman on 5 June 2020, asking her to demand that the Commission enforce the law. On 14 July, the Ombudsman announced that she had decided to open an inquiry and asked the European Commission “for an explanation of the measures taken after her letter of 1 February 2019, namely whether the Commission has taken the decision to open infringement proceedings in this case […] and, if not, why not.” She also invited “the Commission to provide an update on the status of the infringement complaint of 18 September 2019.” BLOOM hopes that the pressure exerted by the Ombudsman will finally shed some light on the European Commission’s either blatant incompetence or proven moral corruption in this case. This charade must stop and the Commission must no longer be an accomplice in the ongoing Dutch abuses.

Notes

[1] Maximum 5% of the beam trawl fleet for each Member State.

[2] See the Dutch article: https://www.visserijnieuws.nl/nieuws/14851-alsnog-omgebouwd-voor-pulsvissen

[3] The BRA-2 is owned by the Dutch Kraak family, who also own two other German electric trawlers, BRA-5 and BRA-7: https://cbonline.boekhuis.nl/pls/cover/p_get_cover_fe?p_hash=EFAE826E898ADC86A08DE772258D7026

[4] To denounce the Dutch illegal derogations, BLOOM filled two complaints: one on 2 October 2017 and another one in 18 September 2019.

[5] On 19 March 2020, BLOOM sent an ultimatum to Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, demanding that strong measures be taken against the Netherlands. The European Commission nonchalantly replied that “the Commission is neither in a position to provide [us] with an accurate state of play, nor to make any statement concerning compliance with the concerned EU provisions“.

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