14 January 2018
Rebuttal to the Dutch electric trawling lobbies
14 January 2018
As BLOOM’s campaign against electric fishing grows stronger, and as more and more voices rise up against this destructive fishing method ahead of the European Parliament’s vote on Tuesday January 16 2018, Dutch lobbies are desperately trying to counter our well-referenced arguments.
To this end, VisNed’s electric fishing lobby has prepared an advocacy document, which has been distributed to MEPs. Here, we refute one by one the biased, erroneous or simply false arguments. Indeed, trying to depict the electric trawl as a virtuous and sustainable gear by comparing it to one of the worst fishing method — the beam trawl — is outrageous.
We will complete this list of fallacious arguments during our campaign. In the meantime, you can get more information (supported by references!) in our advocacy paper: “Electric ‘pulse’ fishing: why it should be banned”.
ARGUMENT # 1
According to the Dutch lobby, electric fishing is not electric fishing! For them, it consists of “weak electric pulses which make the fish leap into the fishing net”, a way to stimulate their natural reflexes.
Obviously, this argument is totally misleading. How can one claim that using a trawl equipped with electrodes delivering an electric current is not electric fishing?
Electric trawls use a bipolar electric current that causes uncontrolled muscle contractions. This type of current is of the same nature as the one used by Tasers© (an electroshock weapon). The term “pulse fishing” is a semantic trick developed by the industry to make this fishing technique appear less negative in the eyes of the citizens, but it is no less harmful.
Moreover, instead of “weak electric pulses”, electric trawls send currents of up to 55 volts and 60 amperes, which is considerable. They cause violent muscular contractions that dislodge the fish from its habitat, as evidenced in these videos of shrimp and sole subjected to such electric current in aquariums. These muscle contractions are so violent that 50 to 70% of the large cod caught using electric trawls have a fractured dorsal spine and internal bleeding!
ARGUMENT # 2
“There is no case of illegal permits since The Netherlands made use of three derogations foreseen in the EU-Regulation”.
This is of course totally false, but we did not expect the Dutch to plead guilty. According to the current European Regulation in force, each Member State has the right to equip in electrodes a maximum of 5% of its beam trawl fleet, which represents only 15 vessels for the Netherlands, according to the European fleet register. In essence, this means that 69 of the 84 trawlers engaged in electric fishing are operating illegally. Although the Dutch use the guise of ‘experiments’ and ‘pilot projects’, the regulatory framework has been largely exceeded. This observation formed the basis of our complaint to the European Commission on 2 October 2017.
The Commission has since remained silent. A deafening but unsurprising silence in light of our latest revelations.
It should be noted that in 2015, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) — the group of scientists that produces scientific advice — acknowledged that “the issuing of 84 licenses to carry out further scientific data collection is not in the spirit of the previous advice and that such a level of expansion is not justified from a scientific perspective. […] This is well in excess of the 5% limit included in the current legislation. At this level this is essentially permitting a commercial fishery under the guise of scientific research“.
ARGUMENT # 3
Authorities can check if the gear complies with the technical requirements.
Again, ICES affirms the opposite. In 2016, it considered that “the existing regulatory framework is not sufficient to prevent the introduction of potentially damaging systems“.
Moreover, it is interesting to note that the intensity (in ampere; the one parameter mostly responsible for the dangerousness of an electric current) is the only one that is not regulated! The authorized power is only limited by the length of the boat, without upper limit, and the authorized voltage is only defined by an average value. This means that Dutch fishers can do what they want. As we have seen above, they use voltages of up to 50V whereas the European regulation limits it at 15V. This was the last point addressed in our complaint of October 2 2017.
ARGUMENT # 4
Electric trawls “leave the bottom unaffected”.
A bottom trawl that does not touch the bottom… The Dutch are trying to make us believe that this is the case, while even their own data shows the opposite. In the end, electric trawl nets are dragged along the bottom and therefore impact marine habitats: the front part of the trawl (the ‘shoe’) penetrates the first six centimeters of the sediment, and the electrodes, further down the trawl, also penetrate it.
Although reduced compared to traditional beam trawl, the impacts of electric trawls remain colossal for marine habitats, not to mention the effects of electric current on the species that live in them. Claiming that the seabed remains unaffected by electric trawls in an email sent to all MEPs is therefore a shameless lie!
ARGUMENT # 5
Electric fishing is the most studied fishing technique in the world.
In 10 years of “research”, only 13 scientific papers on electric fishing (for flatfish) have been published in peer-reviewed journals. The effects on ecosystems have not yet been studied and/or published, although it was required before any derogation could be granted in 2006. Among these 13 studies, only three have studied the effects of electricity on marine life and their conclusions are not really positive:
- The first one shows that 50-70% of large cods have a fractured spine and internal bleeding following the electric shock;
- The second one shows that the survival rate of discarded fish is very low, especially for juveniles: 15% for plaice, 29% for sole and 16% for dab (these rates, already low, do not account for the depredation by birds or other fish once discarded);
- The third one shows that electricity could also weaken the immune system of worms and shrimps, and increase their sensitivity to pathogens.
It should also be noted that China banned electric fishing in 2000 because of its dramatic social and environmental impacts, after having practice it in the 1990s. Europe is thus about to legalize a fishing technique that even China has banned.
Furthermore, electric fishing was banned because of its extreme efficiency, as highlighted by the European Commissioner for Fisheries Joe Borg in 2007, although the European Commission had just created a totally illegitimate exemption regime in the North Sea. In his own words, this “method can be extremely effective, (i.e. fish stocks can be rapidly depleted)”.
In Hong Kong, where electric fishing was banned in 1999, it is written in the law that “electric fishing harms or even kills most fish, including fish fry and other marine life. Such methods of fishing have a long-term deleterious effect on fisheries resources and the marine ecosystem“. It is also in this respect that electric fishing was banned in Europe in 1998, since this interdiction is included in the Regulation No. 850/98 on the “conservation of fishery resources through technical measures for the protection of juveniles of marine organisms”.
ARGUMENT # 6
Numerous NGOs support electric fishing.
Although Dutch NGOs such as the North Sea Foundation, NEV or Greenpeace’s national office have a weaker stance, stating that they support electric fishing may displease them. In fact, they are aware of several negative aspects, as evidenced in an article published on November 15, 2017:
- The Netherlands abusively benefited from derogations: “The number of exemptions granted, however, is not based on a scientific rationale. Rather, scientific research was used as a guise by the pro-pulse lobby to increase the number of exemptions accorded over the years“;
- Scientific priority issues have not been addressed: “Many marine species are sensitive to electricity […]; their response to pulse fishing is not yet understood”;
- The technique is massively deployed in previously inaccessible areas: “Another risk is that areas that were previously left untouched can be reached more easily because the gear is lighter“;
- Electric fishing remains a bottom gear that impacts habitat: “Pulse fishing is a technique in which electrodes attached to a trawl net, which is dragged over the seabed, send electric pulses. […] Fish that are subjected to these pulses jump from the seabed and are caught in the net“.
In the end, these NGOs believe that electric fishing cannot yet be considered as ‘sustainable’: “However, before pulse can be claimed as a sustainable technique, the true risks of pulse fishing for the marine environment must be made clear once and for all“.
ARGUMENT # 7
Electric fishing has been developed as an alternative to beam trawling with the objective of reducing the impact on the seabed.
Industrial lobbies present their intentions as virtuous, but the reality is quite different. Back in the 2000s, the future of beam trawls was threatened, as they had a massive impact on the environment and were in deficit. Their economic model collapsed due to excessive fuel consumption: the fuel costs were such that fish landings were not enough to balance their accounts. Rather than converting to more environmentally-friendly and fuel-efficient artisanal methods, the Dutch made the choice to increase the efficacy of their beam trawls to reduce their fuel consumption. They then made an intense lobbying so that a prohibited method becomes authorized because of its impressive efficacy.
Moreover, the environmental costs of electric fishing on marine biodiversity is not quantified. The ecological challenges that humanity will face in the coming decades do not exclusively concern the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Habitat degradation and the loss of biodiversity are two other major issues. Electric fishing, with its devastating impacts and super efficacy, represents an additional threat to these ecosystems, even if it consumes less fuel than regular beam trawls.
Finally, electric fishing is not an economic solution to the crisis beam trawls endured, because it threatens the very survival of the artisanal fishery. The artisanal fleet accounted for 171 Dutch vessels out of 840 in 2015. Although its landings represent less than 1% of national landings, it employs 18% of the fishers, or 6% of full-time jobs.
ARGUMENT # 8
Electric fishing is more selective.
Once again, electric fishing is compared to one of the worst fishing method, i.e. beam trawling. For 100kg of fish caught by electric trawls, 50-70kg are discarded (including plaice, dab and soles)., At the other end of the spectrum, gillnetters only discard 6kg of fish per 100kg of fish caught.
On this video shot aboard the F/V TX-19, it clearly appears that electric fishing is far from selective.
Notes and references
 Note that the arguments of Dutch lobbies are widely relayed by the institutions and politicians from the Netherlands, such as the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Dutch Embassy in France, or the MEP Peter van Dalen.
 Dermengiu et al. (2008) Electroshock weapons: physiologic and pathologic effects – literature review. Romanian Journal of Legal Medicine 16(3): 187–193.
 ICES CM 2012/SSGESST:06 : Report of the Study Group on Electrical Trawling (SGELECTRA). Lorient, France (page 3)
 de Haan et al. (2016) Pulse trawl fishing: characteristics of the electrical stimulation and the effect on behaviour and injuries of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). ICES Journal of Marine Science 73(6): 1557-1569.
 de Haan et al. (2016) Op. cit.
 Regulation (EC) No 850/98 amended by Regulation (EU) No 227/2013.
 Article 43 of Regulation (EC) No 850/1998.
 Article 14 of Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013.
 ICES (2015) Second interim report of the working group on electrical trawling (WGELECTRA). IJmuiden, the Netherlands, 10-12 November 2015 Copenhagen (Denmark): International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), 2015.
 ICES (2016) Advice 2016, Book 1. Request from France for updated advice on the ecosystem effects of pulse trawl. Disponible à : www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2016/Special_Requests/France_Effects_of_pulse_trawl.pdf
 De Haan (2016) Op. cit.
 Baarseen et al. (2015) Verkenning economische impact aanlandplicht op Nederlandse kottervloot. Flynth & LEI Wageningen UR. 69 p.
 STECF (2006) 23rd report of the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (second plenary meeting), Barza d’Ispra, 6-10 Novembre 2006. Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STEFC). Disponible à : https://stecf.jrc.ec.europa.eu/documents/43805/99464/2006-11_23rd+report+of+the+STECF.pdf
 de Haan et al. (2016) Op. cit.
 van der Reijden et al. (2017) Survival of undersized plaice (Pleuronectes platessa), sole (Solea solea), and dab (Limanda limanda) in North Sea pulse-trawl fisheries. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 74(6): 1672–1680.
 Soetaert et al. (2015) Determining the safety range of electrical pulses for two benthic invertebrates: brown shrimp (Crangon crangon L.) and ragworm (Alitta virens S.). ICES Journal of Marine Science, 72(3): 973–980.
 Yu et al. (2007) The rise and fall of electrical beam trawling for shrimp in the East China Sea: technology, fishery, and conservation implications. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 64(8): 1592–1597.
 European Commission (2007) Parliamentary questions — 10 September 2007 — Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission. E-4018/2007. Available at: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getAllAnswers.do?reference=E-2007-4018&language=FR.
 Legislative Council brief, fisheries protection ordinance (Chapter 171). Available at: www.legco.gov.hk/yr98-99/english/bc/bill_04/general/04_brf.pdf.
 Turenhout (2016) Pulse trawling in the Netherlands: economic and spatial impact study. Available at: http://library.wur.nl/WebQuery/wurpubs/fulltext/396469.
 Turenhout (2016) Ibid.
 The 2017 Annual economic report on the EU fishing fleet (STECF 17-12)
 Cappell et al. (2016) MSC sustainable fisheries certification — Off-site surveillance visit — CVO pulse sole and plaice fishery — Public comment draft report.
 Baarseen et al. (2015) Op. cit.
 Kelleher (2005) Discards in the world’s marine fisheries: an update. FAO, Rome (Italy).