Electric fishing: BLOOM’s new report uncovers the massive Dutch fraud

In an explosive new report, BLOOM goes one step further in its revelations on the abysmal depth of the Dutch electric fishing fraud. Through the analysis of unpublished data that we had access to thanks to whistleblowers, we were able to determine that the number of Dutch vessels equipped with electric trawls was far greater than the number of derogations officially acknowledged by the Netherlands. We also demonstrated that Germany — supposedly a model pupil — was also engaging in illegal fishing, and that some Dutch vessels were not satisfied to be already outside the legal framework and were fishing in prohibited areas. Faced with the appalling inaction of the European Commission in this matter, BLOOM demands that firm sanctions be taken against the Netherlands and asks France as well as Belgium to refer the matter to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

> Read our new report (+ annexes)

New revelations of fraud

BLOOM had access to unpublished data from 6 out of the 11 Dutch auctions.[1] Their analysis allows us to assert today, without any possible doubt, that the Netherlands has granted much more than its 84 officially-acknowledged derogations . In reality, at least 95 vessels have actually been practicing electric fishing. It is also these new data that have enabled us to prove that the Dutch-owned but German-flagged trawler BRA-2 BUTENDIEK was indeed equipped in April 2020. However, the ‘Technical Measures’ regulation in force since 14 August 2019, stipulates very clearly that no new derogations can be granted from this date onward, until the definitive removal of the remaining derogations at the end of June 2021.[2] On 20 July 2020, BLOOM had filed a complaint against Germany with the European Commission, which has so far remained unanswered.[3]

Fishing pattern of BRA2 BUTENDIEK, a German-flagged but Dutch-owned electric trawler.

By matching these auction data with vessel tracking data, BLOOM also discovered that trawler TH10 DIRKJE has been fishing illegally with electric trawls in the Belgian 12-mile coastal zone, even though Belgium has banned this practice in its territorial waters.[4] Like the entire Dutch fleet of electric trawlers, this vessel violates with impunity the European regulations that are supposed to govern this destructive fishing method.

Electric fishing in marine protected areas

Furthermore, ploughing the ocean’s bottom with a trawl — all the more an electric one — seems to us to be clearly incompatible with the objectives of a marine protected area. However, thanks to these new auction data associated with the vessel tracking data available via the Global Fishing Watch platform, our partner, the London-based NGO Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) can adamently state that electric trawling was still frequently used in certain protected areas in the United Kingdom last year. Vessels over 40m such as  TX38, for example, operated north of Norfolk Bank, a marine protected area. BLUE reminded that a study by Cefas had shown that the diversity of marine species was almost halved in areas where electric fishing was conducted, compared to areas preserved from this destructive fishing technique. At the time of this publication, these results had confirmed the numerous statements made by small-scale fishers across the North Sea, who have been complaining for years about the desert-like state of the seabed after the passage of electric trawlers.

Denial of prejudicial action

These new data reinforce the already overwhelming body of evidence on the multiple frauds committed by the Netherlands and revealed by BLOOM’s European campaign. Despite all these indisputable arguments, the European Commission is stubbornly refusing to sanction the Netherlands, thus allowing Dutch lobbies to break free from the regulations in force with complete serenity.

In its letter dated 30 July 2020, the Commission informed BLOOM that it was taking note of the infringements committed by the Netherlands, while saying that Dutch vessels would be allowed to keep their remaining illegal licences. In the same letter, the Commission also informed us of its willingness to close our complaints without further action. “The European Commission is digging the grave of democracy. Its position reflects tacit collusion with industrial lobbies, which severely undermines citizens’ confidence in our institutions. With this report, we are sending another electric shock so that the Commission can act in the general interest and condemn a fraud that has been going on for 10 years,” explains Sabine Rosset, BLOOM’s Director.

We demand sanctions against the Netherlands

On 2 September 2020, BLOOM officially asked France to file complaint for failure to act against the European Commission before the Court of Justice of the European Union. Today, we are asking the same of Belgium, also clearly fooled by the unacceptable behaviour of the Netherlands. If successful, such an action could indeed force the European Commission to take the Netherlands to court for illegal fishing. “We have few, if any, illusions about the Commission’s willingness to act against the Dutch interests. Until now, it has systematically chosen to rush forward and continues to run headlong into the wall, trampling on the general interest and its role as Guardian of the Treaties. We are counting on Member States such as France and Belgium to put the Commission face to face with its responsibilities and force it to respect its role” explains Frédéric Le Manach, BLOOM’s Scientific Director. These new revelations of fraud must be taken seriously and lead to exemplary sanctions in order to restore justice.

The electric fishing scandal has already caused much ink to flow and condemned many small-scale fishers to bankruptcy. With BLOOM’s new revelations and the intention of the new German Presidency of the Council to reopen the case, it is now in danger of getting a second wind.

Notes and references

[1] It refers to the auctions of Colijnsplaat, Den Helder/Texel, Den Oever, Goedereede/Stellendam, Ijmuiden and Scheveningen.

[2] Annex V Part D of Regulation (EU) 2019/1241.

[3] At the head of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the German Minister had announced her intention to reopen the debate on the ban on electric fishing during her hearing before the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries on 3 September 2020. She had deliberately kicked the illegal derogation granted by Germany, which had been raised by MEP Caroline Roose, and used the language of the Dutch industry lobbies.

[4] Arrêté ministériel portant sur l’interdiction à la pêche pulsatoire dans les eaux territoriales belges de la zone des douze miles. Numac: 2019013793. Available at: http://www.ejustice.just.fgov.be/cgi/article_body.pl?language=fr&caller=summary&pub_date=19-08-09&numac=2019013793

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