VICTORY: electric fishing will be banned in Europe in 2021

This is a victory for BLOOM and our coalition of small-scale fishers and NGOs although it will occur too late to our taste. Late on Wednesday 13 February, in Strasbourg, negotiators from the three European institutions (Parliament, Council of the EU, and Commission) reached an agreement on the use of electric current in the framework of the reform of the Technical Measures Regulation: electric fishing will be fully prohibited in all waters, including those outside the EU, by 30 June 2021. In 2017, when BLOOM started campaigning in the European Parliament, all political groups but one (GUE) accepted the principle of electric fishing and artisanal fishermen no longer had any hope of seeing it banned. The debate was about whether or not allowing its massive expansion in Europe” recalls Claire Nouvian, founder of BLOOM. “It’s been a long winding road to get here. We have managed to completely turn the political ecosystem in our favor. The negotiations tonight almost only focused on the date of the ban, nobody was even questioning the fact that the prohibition would occur“.

Until then, trawlers already equipped with electricity will be able to continue to use their derogations as provided as of 2007, i.e., within the 5% threshold of each Member State’s beam trawl fleet. No new exemptions will be granted. In addition, the political agreement that has been reached makes it clear that scientific research must be strictly supervised with a limited number of vessels (six, which is far too high) and a protocol validated by the scientific body of the European Commission (the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries).

Finally!” explodes Mathieu Colléter, in charge of BLOOM’s institutional relations, who closely followed the electric fishing dossier in Brussels. “It took us over two years of campaigning, two formal complaints to the European Commission, a request to open a European investigation for fraud, a referral to the European Ombudsman, hundreds of meetings with Member States representatives and Parliamentarians in Brussels to obtain this full ban on electric fishing“.

Sabine Rosset, BLOOM’s Director explains that a ban by 30 June 2021 is the result of a compromise, which is too generous to Dutch lobbies. Utterly opposed to the prohibition, Dutch industrial fishers defended a transition period of three years to continue the electrocution of marine life until 2022, while BLOOM and European artisanal fishers called for a ban by 31 July 2019. “A two-year transition period from today is far too long for small-scale fishers” explains Rosset.They have been suffering from unfair competition from industrial vessels fishing illegally for years”, she warns. “In the meantime, Member States must immediately prohibit electric fishing in their own waters so that Dutch vessels can no longer fish along our coasts. In addition, it is essential that EU institutions come up with an emergency financial plan to support small-scale fishers who no longer have the means to resist.”

“When we started our campaign against electric fishing, the whole political ecosystem was against us,” recalls Claire Nouvian, founder of BLOOM. “We embarked on this new, oversized fight for the small BLOOM team, because it seemed morally unacceptable to allow the electrocution of marine life. But our researchers Laetitia Bisiaux and Frédéric Le Manach have unveiled facts of unsuspected severity: a series of deeply corrupt public decisions in favor of Dutch industrial lobbies. Our campaign took an unexpected turn to fight systemic fraud, financial and legal abuse and a disturbing dysfunction of EU institutions. Today, we celebrate not only a victory for the marine environment and artisanal fishermen, but also a victory for citizens. This result is a reminder that with perseverance and rigor, a small group of motivated people, supported by the public opinion, can win against a radically hostile political and industrial system.”

BLOOM pays tribute to the mobilization of European small-scale fishers, NGOs[1] and citizens who have been campaigning alongside us, as well as to those politicians who played a key role in the path to victory, such as MEPs Younous Omarjee, Yannick Jadot and Rosa d’Amato. The mobilization of some elected officials was also decisive, such as that of Frédérique Ries in Belgium, Anja Hazekamp in the Netherlands and Richard Benyon, Zac Goldsmith, Julie Girling, John Flack and Peter Aldous in the UK.

Frédéric Le Manach concludes by recalling: “the European Commission has acknowledged that our complaint about illegal electric licenses was founded and has announced its intention to open an infringement procedure against the Netherlands. A decision that ultimately rests with the College of Commissioners. However, we found out during the night of 12 to 13 February, once again via Dutch journalists, that the decision had been made not to prosecute the Netherlands for their illegal licenses. This is also how we discovered the decision of the European anti-fraud office[2] not to open an investigation following the complaint by BLOOM about the financial fraud. This is unacceptable! We demand a public explanation from Jean-Claude Juncker about whether or not the College of Commissioners has blocked the request by the Directorate-General of Fisheries (DGMARE) to initiate proceedings against the Netherlands. Furthermore, the millions of euros collected under illegal licenses must be returned to European taxpayers. It will not end here ».

The agreement reached on the electric fishing prohibition still needs to be endorsed by the European Parliament during a Plenary vote[3]. “It’s a mandatory but risk-free step. Once a compromise is found on such a sensitive political terrain, it is almost impossible for the Parliament to jeopardize it by voting against” concludes Mathieu Colléter.

Ends

BLOOM thanks the Chefs mobilized by our side thanks to Chef Christopher Coutanceau, the Relais & Châteaux network, the Euro-Toques network, the Culinary College of France, Intermarché and Carrefour, who have chosen not to market any species coming from the Netherlands. BLOOM thanks also the Fishmongers Association of France (Poissonniers de France).

Short chronology of BLOOM’s campaign

As a reminder, BLOOM revealed in October 2017, by filing a complaint against the Netherlands, that 83% of electric fishing licences were illegal. On 1 February 2019, following an order by the European Ombudsman, the Commission confirmed the relevance of BLOOM’s complaint and declared wanting to open an official infringement procedure against the Netherlands. The final decision rests with the College of Commissioners. Jean-Claude Juncker, questioned by BLOOM, still did not specify when this decision would be taken.

In January 2018, BLOOM revealed that the decision by the European Commission to authorise electric fishing, a practice considered until 2006 as a destructive fishing method, had been deliberately taken AGAINST scientific advice.

On 16 January 2018, after a superhuman effort by BLOOM and a coalition of small-scale fishers and NGOs, the European Parliament voted for a total and definitive ban on electric fishing in Europe.

In June 2018, BLOOM obtained the file on subsidies allocated to the Dutch fishing sector and reveals in November that the development, in majority illegal, of electric fishing in Europe, was facilitated by 21.5 million euros of public subsidies. BLOOM also filed a complaint and asked for the opening of an investigation for fraud to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) relating to these improper subsidies.

 On 6 November 2018, failing a response from the institutions concerning these licences and illegal subsidies, BLOOM seized the European Ombudsman for maladministration and renewed its complaint to OLAF. Required to reply before 31 January 2019, the European Commission eventually confirmed to BLOOM that its accusations were substantiated: the licences are illegal and the Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries requested the opening of an infringement procedure against the Netherlands.

To find all key dates of our campaign, visit our campaign page: http://www.bloomassociation.org/en/our-actions/our-themes/electric-pulse-fishing/blooms-campaign/.

Read our press release in French.

Read our press release in Italian.

Read our press release in Spanish.

NOTES

[1] Blue Marine Foundation; Blue Ventures; COAST; End Ecocide; Irish Wildlife Trust; Lonxanet; Notre Affaire A Tous; Open Seas; The Black Fish; Shark Project Germany; Slow Food; LIFE;NUTFA; SIFT; IJmuiden fishermen; Coalition Clean Baltic; Pan Cypriot Association of Professional Fishermen; Fishermen United; Fileyeurs Hauts-de-France; IIMRO; Leigh and Southend fishermen; Lowestoft Fish Market Alliance; Thanet fishermen / Queenbourgh fishermen; Plateforme Petite Pêche; Fischereischutzverband Schleswig-Holstein; MedReact; C-LIFE; Foreningen for Skånsomt Kystfiskeri; Climaxi.

[2] https://www.bloomassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/4-fév-2019-BLOOM-Lettre-OLAF.pdf

[3] This vote must necessarily take place no later than the week of 15 April, which will open the last plenary session of the European Parliament before the elections.

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