Unprecedented EU-wide mobilization of fishers against electric fishing

#FishersResist

Today, small-scale and traditional fishers across the EU are mobilizing in ports in a simultaneous action of resistance to protest against electric fishing and to call on public decision-makers to definitively ban this destructive fishing technique in Europe.

Fishers from Belgium, France, Germany, the UK, Italy, Ireland and even the Netherlands, have decided to act with other fishermen and NGOs to denounce a fishing method which is destroying the marine environment as surely as it is threatening their very economic survival.

> Fishermen organisations and NGOs have launched a collective platform of action to call on decision makers: www.stopelectricfishing.org
> See pictures from the mobilization of fishers and NGOs on 18 June 2018

Fishermen are taking action at 9 am on Monday 18 June 2018 in the following ports around the North Sea: IJmuiden (Netherlands), Nieuwpoort (Belgium), Boulogne-sur-Mer (France), Lowestoft (UK), and seven islands in Ireland (Arranmore, Inishbofin Island, Clare Island, Inis Lyre, Inis Oirr, Bere Island, Sherkin Island). Other regions are mobilizing too: Flensburg on the Baltic Sea (Germany), Mandriola and Oristano in Italy and the following regions in France: Saint-Mandrier on the Mediterranean Coast and Saint Jean de Luz on the Atlantic Coast.

Electric fishing was forbidden in Europe in 1998 but the European Commission proposed to authorize it as of 2006 under an exceptional derogation regime. This decision, which went against the explicit scientific advice provided to the Commission, is causing far-reaching chaos:  as a result, an entire commercial fleet in the Netherlands converted to a prohibited, destructive fishing method under the guise of experimental and scientific licenses, but by the public admission of the Dutch government, scientists and fishing industry, such scientific activities were not conducted. The Dutch government and European Commission have also been mutually guilty of providing electric licenses well beyond the authorized legal limit. 

From a financial point of view, electric fishing has become a symbol of the biased arbitration of public authorities in favour of an over-represented, politically powerful fishing lobby. To save the nearly-bankrupt and high-impact beam trawl fleet, politicians renamed a destructive fishing method (electric fishing) as “innovative”, thus allowing them not only to practice this prohibited fishing method but to obtain millions of euros of public subsidies to equip beam trawlers with electrodes at the expense of taxpayers and European citizens.

> NGOs and fishers organizations requested the EU Anti-Fraud Office to investigate potential fraud in the electric fishery

This file is a European embarrassment comparable to scientific whaling. It contradicts all EU commitments to sustainability, breaks EU rules of financial transparency and tramps legal obligations to ensure equitable access to resources among fishers. Finally, electric fishing also treads on regulatory objectives of environmental restoration and use of public monies.

The worst part is that public policies are caught red-handed destroying not just the marine environment, but employment. And although proven wrong, decision makers and politicians at EU or national levels persist in defending the worst fishing practices instead of the best ones. For example, while electric trawlers discard between 50 to 70%[1] of fish caught, gillnetters only discard a maximum of 6%.[2] Similarly, for one litre of fuel burnt, gillnetters catch up to 6 times more fish (2 to 3 kilos) than electric trawlers (450 grams).

Despite the obvious socio-economic and ecological merits of coastal fishing methods used by small-scale and traditional fishers, the most destructive, fuel-intensive and subsidy-dependent fishers are protected by politicians.  

In every aspect, electric fishing shames Europe.

Over the years, the depletion of fish along the coastline of the North Sea has brought traditional fishers to the brink of economic collapse. For example, between 2014 and 2018, gillnetters from northern France have lost on average 50% of their catch of sole.[3]

Industrial lobbies, year after year, have gained control over “producer organizations” (which allocate fishing quotas), political representation bodies, port management structures and fleet ownerships. Small fishers have been slowly but surely forced to silence because if they dare speak up against dominant actors, retaliation is immediate and fierce (quotas, fishing rights, licenses etc.)

Their future is as pitch black as a tunnel with no light at the end. It took reaching that level of despair and being on the verge of bankruptcy for fishers to denounce the oppression of industrial actors in their fishing quarters. They are now determined to fight until the end, until electric fishing is fully and definitively banned.

> Fishermen organisations and NGOs ask citizens to support them and to call on decision makers to definitively ban electric fishing in Europe: www.stopelectricfishing.org

Our press release is also available in French, Dutch, Italian, Polish, and Portuguese.

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FISHERMEN VERBATIM

FRANCE

To us, electric trawling is the new technological leap that could threaten the whole European fishing sector. Why did we arrive at a decrease of more than half of the boats? Because Europe has subsidized the construction of bigger boats, with this story of electric trawls, we are exactly in the same scenario. We will subsidize, we will promote by law an even more efficient fishing technique, even more intensive. What will be the result? Fewer boats, that’s for sure. A 5% authorization, for us is not scientific. Scientific fishing should entice a protocol with a strict number of pilot boats… A percentage does not mean anything.”

Ken Kawahara, Plateforme de la Petite Pêche Artisanale

Germany

« Globally, the economically interesting fish stocks are under high catch pressure. Ever more sophisticated techniques, higher technological performance and ship electronics hardly leave fish a chance to escape. It is not without reason that fishing by means of electricity according to German fishing rights has been prohibited so far. (Fisheries Law of Schleswig-Holstein, § 31, (3). Resourceful people have started a pilot project in the Netherlands, where the use of electricity in beam trawling was tested for flatfish. Here, significant catch increases were achieved. Under the guise of reducing the mechanical impact of bottom-contact fishing gear and the associated fuel savings, this type of fishing is marketed as “very environmentally friendly”. It’s exactly the opposite.

Because here the unexplored effects of electric impulses on marine organisms in general and juvenile fish in particular have been ignored. The interests of the insatiable fishing industry and profit striving without regard to losses thus endanger the entire marine ecosystem.

We say: “defend first life stages”! For the survival of any fishery, we fundamentally reject electric fishing with the purpose of protecting fish stocks and the marine environment.

As the decline of fish stocks worldwide and also in the Baltic Sea shows, times of “higher, faster, further” are finally over.”

Wolfgang Albrecht, Representative from Fischereischutzverband

UK

“I feel threatened by electric fishing as the death and destruction being caused today will destroy my son’s tomorrow’s and a whole way of life will be lost forever”.

Paul LINES, Lowestoft Fish Market Alliance

FURTHER READ

-> As things stood until a few days ago, the scale of the financial scandal could not be fully evaluated because the Netherlands had failed to publish the file of public subsidies allocated from 2007 to 2014,[4] making it impossible to calculate the total subsidies granted to electric fishing since the introduction of derogations.

However, as a result of BLOOM’s complaint against the Netherlands about its non-compliance with transparency obligations http://www.bloomassociation.org/en/pulse-fishing-second-complaint-against-the-netherlands/ and our coalition’s request to the European Anti-Fraud Office, the Dutch government finally published in mid-June the missing subsidies file.  We are now in the process of analyzing its content.

Meanwhile, BLOOM has managed to estimate the subsidies allocated since August 2015. In just over two years, at least 5.7 million euros of public subsidies have been allocated for the development of industrial electric fishing fleets in the Netherlands, of which 3.8 million euros come from European funds (67% of the total).[5] These public subsidies have been allocated under the titles of “research”, “innovation” and “best practices”.

-> See BLOOM’s complaint against the Netherlands about illegal licenses: http://www.bloomassociation.org/en/pulse-fishing-bloom-files-a-complaint-against-the-netherlands/

-> The platform for European artisanal fishermen “LIFE” (Low Impact Fishers of Europe) has gathered fisher testimonials online about the state of the marine environment after the passage of electric trawl nets.

-> Read our collective document: “Electric ‘Pulse’ Fishing: Why It Should Be Banned”: http://www.bloomassociation.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/electric-fishing-advocacy-doc-v2.pdf

-> Read the joint position of fishers and NGOs: https://www.bloomassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Electric-Fishing-Joint-position-3.pdf

UK focus

The so-called “zoning agreement” deal between NFFO and Visned in December 2017 was intended to diminish fisher resistance before the European Parliament’s vote in January 2018. The spatial agreement stopped applying as of 31 May 2018. As a result Dutch electric trawlers have again full access to UK waters.

Notes and references

[1] See Cappell et al. (2016) MSC sustainable fisheries certification — Off-site surveillance visit — CVO pulse sole and plaice fishery — Public comment draft report. Acoura Marine Ltd, Edinburgh (UK). 261 p. Also see Baarseen et al. (2015) Verkenning economic impact aanlandplicht op Nederlandse kottervloot. Flynth & LEI Wageningen UR. 69 p.

[2] Kelleher (2005) Discards in the world’s marine fisheries: an update. Fisheries Technical Paper 470, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome (Italy). 152 p.

[3] FranceAgriMer, 2018, “Focus sur la sole – cas des fileyeurs du Nord”, available at:

http://www.lemarin.fr/sites/default/files/2018/05/24/extrait_sole_0.pdf

[4] Under the “European Fisheries Fund” (EFF).

[5] Data from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) for the period 2015-2020. Available at: http://www.rvo.nl/sites/default/files/2017/05/20170430_Openbaarmaking_EFMZV_2_v1.csv

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