A dangerous compromise on electric fishing

A technical meeting (staff level) will be held at the European Parliament on 14 November 2018 in order to discuss a possible compromise on electric fishing. This ‘draft proposal’ from Spanish MEP Gabriel Mato (EPP; Rapporteur of the Technical Measures Regulation) is worrisome. In stark contrast with the clear mandate given by the European Parliament on 16 January 2018, it is based on the previous Council of the EU’s scandalous proposal, which was thankfully rejected during the latest Trilogue negotiations on 4 October. Mato’s proposal perpetuates the main negative points from the failed Council’s compromise and gives way to dangerous possibilities:

  • The draft allows commercial electric fishing to continue until the end of 2021. Member States have the possibility to prohibit electric fishing in a limited and insufficient area, within twelve nautical miles from shore (territorial waters), without waiting for the total phase out of electric fishing. Implicitly, the three-year period can be used to gather more scientific knowledge on this technique to potentially allow it afterward. But let us remind everyone that electric fishing has now been carrying on for ten years “under the guise of scientific research[1] and that more instrumentalization of science will not serve anyone but the electric fishing lobby;

> Read our advocacy document, which summarizes the numerous threats caused by electric fishing.

  • Furthermore, the draft proposal is very unclear and does not meet standards of ‘legal certainty’. It clearly supports an unacceptable status quo: while the development of electric fishing results from a series of scandalous decisions, the draft still includes flaws that we have long denounced. Electric fishing can still be used in a commercial way for 5% of the beam trawl fleet of each Member State, but the draft legitimizes the possibility to obtain additional derogations under the guise of ‘scientific research’ or ‘pilot projects’. In other words, while the draft states that “new licenses shall not be granted [until 31 December 2021]“, the illegal status of all licenses granted beyond the 5% regulatory framework (i.e. 70 trawlers out of 84) would not be challenged, should this compromise be adopted;


  • Most worrisomely, the draft also establishes a clear roadmap to re-authorize electric fishing once it is banned at the end of 2021. The role of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) is to produce scientific advice. No need to include this role in a regulation by stating that the Commission can request an advice from ICES “in due time“. Furthermore, the Commission does not need any scientific advice to submit a legislative proposal. In fact, the initial derogations to practice electric fishing were granted against explicit scientific advice;


  • The draft means to avoid the marketing of species being caught with non-conventional fishing methods. This is non-sensical, given that i) selling illegal catches is, by definition, already illegal, and ii) electric ‘pulse’ fishing is not covered in the list of prohibited fishing methods, given that if benefits from a regime of derogations. Therefore, this useless provision would in no way prevent electric fishing from being used.


One beneficial provision of this draft proposal is that, should electric fishing be banned, this regulation would also apply to international waters and that of third countries.

In conclusion, this draft compromise is unacceptable and should be entirely reworded so as to follow the clear European Parliament’s mandate.

Notes and references

[1] ICES (2015) Second interim report of the working group on electrical trawling (WGELECTRA). IJmuiden, the Netherlands, 10-12 November 2015 Copenhagen (Denmark).

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