Pulse fishing: BLOOM files a complaint against The Netherlands

Today, BLOOM formally filed a complaint against The Netherlands through the European Commission complaint form for having illegally granted derogations to its vessels in order to practice “pulse fishing”.

Pulse fishing consists in equipping regular bottom trawls with electrodes that send electric pulses through the sediment to capture the flatfish that live in it. This fishing method is extremely criticized for its hyper efficiency and its violent impacts on marine ecosystems: fish brought onboard are often burnt or have ecchymosis and broken spines following the electrocution.[1]

BLOOM’s complaint was lodged just a week before the vote of the European Parliament’s PECH Committee on October 9 and 10, during which MEPs will have to decide whether or not they agree to consider pulse fishing as a ‘conventional’ fishing method and therefore authorize it to be operated without derogations.

Illegal licenses

Despite being banned in Europe since 1998,[2] the Dutch — who fiercely advocate for this fishing method — have lobbied the European Commission and obtained that pulse fishing be permitted under a regime of “derogations” since 2007. The regulation now allows each EU Member State to equip up to 5% of its beam trawl fleet with electrodes.[3] However, research by BLOOM reveals that the Netherlands have violated these rules by equipping — allegedly for research and innovation — 28% of their beam trawlers, i.e. 84 vessels, instead of the maximum 15 derogations they should have benefited from.

The development of pulse fishing speaks volumes about the dire state European fish stocks are in“, analyzes Frédéric Le Manach, BLOOM’s scientific director. “Fish stocks are chronically overexploited and fishing effort is so high that fishers have no choice but to embark on a race for technological efficiency in an attempt to optimize their catches. This vicious circle must be stopped“.

Controversial… but subsidized!

Pulse fishing is no exception to the rule that the economic viability of the most destructive and least sustainable fisheries is not possible without public subsidies.

Non-exhaustive research has revealed that Dutch trawlers, some operating illegally, have received EUR 5.7 million of public subsidies since August 2015, including EUR 3.8 million from the European maritime and fisheries fund (EMFF).[4]

It is distressing to see that the new European fisheries fund pretexts ‘innovation’ and ‘research’ to finance ever more efficient fishing companies” says Laetitia Bisiaux, researcher at BLOOM. “The European Commission ­— which is organizing the “Our Ocean” conference in Malta this week — should be much more demanding on the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The distortion of CFP objectives for the sole benefit of industrial lobbies jeopardizes the chances of success of the European roadmap. This is short-sighted and perilous.

France is opposed to pulse fishing

In February 2017, France’s former Minister of Ecology, Mrs Ségolène Royal, sent a letter to the European Commission to firmly oppose pulse fishing.[5]

BLOOM calls on all MEPs to follow suit and reject the European Commission’s proposal next week, for pulse fishing simply tolls the bell of European fisheries.


BLOOM’s complaint addresses three issues:

  • An illegal number of derogations from the get-go

In 2007, the Dutch beam trawl fleet included 372 vessels. A total of maximum 18 derogations should have been granted, not 22. In 2017, their fleet decreased to 304 vessels. The number of derogations should thus have decreased to 15, whereas it has reached 84 instead.

  • Abusive derogations

62 additional derogations have been granted by way of “scientific research” and as part of a “pilot project”. This expansion — for a fishery that has been operating since 2007 — cannot qualify as a “pilot project”.

  • A non regulatory electric tension

The law specifies that voltage must be limited to 15V. However, pulse trawlers use a voltage that is comprised between 40 and 60V.


More about… Pulse fishing

Read the press release

In French
In Spanish
In German

Notes and references

[1] www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2015/feb/09/we-should-be-outraged-by-europe-slaughtering-sea-life-in-the-name-of-science.

[2] Article 31 of Council Regulation (EC) No 850/98 of 30 March 1998 for the conservation of fishery resources through technical measures for the protection of juveniles of marine organisms. Official Journal L (125): 1–36.

[3] Article 31a of Council Regulation (EC) No 850/98, introduced by Regulation (EU) No 227/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 March 2013. Official Journal L (78): 1–22.

[4] Payment from 01/08/2015 to 01/08/2019. Available at: www.rvo.nl/sites/default/files/2017/05/20170430_Openbaarmaking_EFMZV_2_v1.csv.

[5] Official letter (in French) available at: www.lemarin.fr/sites/default/files/2017/03/02/d17002134_vella.pdf.

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