05 June 2020
Electric fishing lobbies blowing hot air
05 June 2020
Bis repetita. As in 2018, electric fishing supporters are using the timely publication of a ‘Special Advice’ from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) to advertise supposedly scientific data and call for the withdrawal of the regulation that prohibits this destructive fishing method. As in 2018, this is not the case: ‘science’ has not proven the harmlessness of this fishing method. For 10 years, the Netherlands has been trampling European law by trying to impose by force a fishing method that has been denounced throughout Europe by small-scale fishers.
A sensation of deja vu
The publication of this ICES Special Advice follows a request from the Dutch government to ICES to assess the contribution of electric fishing to the reduction of ecosystem and environmental impacts in the North Sea sole fishery, i.e. to compare once again plague and cholera, electric trawling and conventional beam trawling (the latter being widely considered as one of the most destructive fishing gears in the world). But to address climate change and increase marine ecosystems’ resilience, we need a radical overhaul of the fisheries sector, not marginal innovations that make destructive gears more effective.
As in 2018, this more virtuous fishing alternatives, such as the gillnet fishing practiced by small-scale fishers in northern France, were utterly ignores. Two years ago, the Netherlands attempted a political coup to impose electric fishing in Europe despite a vote in the European Parliament in January 2018 for a total ban. This resulted in a bitter failure for fishing lobbies, as the then Advice was strongly criticized, in particular by French Ifremer, which rarely makes public criticisms.
Rushed research to save electric fishing
We will not go into the pseudo scientific breakthroughs on electric fishing agitated by a handful of Dutch Members of the European Parliament and by fishing lobbies. Our previous criticism remains applicable, as does that of Ifremer. However, let us recall two points:
- In March 2018, an investigative journalist revealed the vast fraud represented by the ‘scientific fishing’ of the Dutch, thus confirming ICES’ own statement that electric fishing had been developed “under the guise of scientific research“. As a result of this journalistic investigation, the Dutch Minister of Fisheries acknowledged that the promised research had not taken place. Since then, Dutch labs have been producing data at all costs to save electric fishing (laboratories which, it should be remembered, are very largely financed by the electric fishing lobbies);
- Some evidence seems to confirm that electric fishing is, at best, as harmful as conventional beam trawling. This is the case of a report published by a British institute, but also of a study published by Dutch researchers. The words of Adriaan Rijnsdorp, the leading researcher on electric fishing, are still as relevant today as ever: “If we take samples of the seabed right away [after the passage of the electric trawl], all we find are dead animals. So we wait two days. “Hans Polet, another very prolific researcher on electric fishing, has also greatly nuanced what the advocates of electric fishing have said following the recent ICES publication: “[our institute] ILVO has clearly demonstrated that the Belgian 12 nautical mile zone has been disproportionately fished by Dutch electric trawlers. Their practices have clearly had a negative impact on fish stocks off the Belgian coast. In addition, the complaints of Belgian, French and English small-scale fishermen, who suffered from unfair competition from electric fishing, have been ignored” (extract from a press release deleted since then, saved here).
Electric fishing will be banned
The Dutch developed electric fishing without any regard for the environmental and social concerns that this destructive technique raised. Lobbies are now seeking to discredit a decision that allowed the general interest to prevail over the financial interests of a handful of industrials. But the turmoil they are trying to initiate only has one goal: hiding that the Netherlands still has an illegal number of derogations and that the European Commission condones it by remaining silent in the face of our repeated complaints. Trampling the general interest cannot be a winning strategy.