Demersal seines, the new ‘technological fishing’ of Dutch industrial fishers

On 16 January 2018, MEPs from all political parties voted with a large majority to ban electric fishing in order to protect marine ecosystems and artisanal fishers. However, the destructive innovations developed by the Dutch fishing industry continue to destroy the ocean and drive artisanal fishers to bankruptcy. A fishing gear that appeared about 15 years ago is criticized more than ever: the “demersal seine” (also known as ‘flyshooting’ or ‘Scotting seining’). Although only a small number of scientific studies exist on the environmental impact of the demersal seine, the few reports on the issue show that this gear is an ecological bomb for marine biodiversity.

An aberrant fishing capacity

The demersal seine consists of deploying a cable on the seabed, forming a polygon covering a 3 km² area.[1] The cable is then pulled down, creating walls of sediment to catch the fish trapped inside the immense polygon. Five seiners rake a surface the size of Paris in one day. There are 75 demersal seine vessels in the Channel.[2]

A non-selective gear

The demersal seine is not selective, and notably captures a substantial part of juvenile fish. For instance, the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries underlines “high discard rates for whiting in this fleet, i.e. 39% in 2013 and 79% in 2014.”[3]

The vulnerability of marine ecosystems is incompatible with devastating industrial fishing methods such as demersal seining, which has disastrous ecological and social consequences.

The efficiency and non-selectivity of the demersal seine is all the more dangerous that it targets species not subject to quotas such as squid, cuttlefish, red mullet and gurnard. These species also have no minimum catch size. Once the largest specimens are caught, seiners turn to juveniles, in this way depleting fish populations.[4]

A social disaster

Inshore fishers were quick to denounce the danger demersal seining represents for ecosystems and their livelihoods. Abandoned by politicians and with no management measures to regulate fishing effort, certain French fishers, who originally fought against demersal seining, chose to convert their trawlers to this new technique in order to remain as competitive as Dutch seiners. However, despite investing several million euros in this transition, these French fishers are now at theforefront of those calling for the adoption of the amendment due to the demersal seine’s destructiveness. This is the case for Wilfried Roberge, owner of a seine trawler in Port-en-Bessin, who decided not to use the seine any more, but to still keep his licence in order to avoid the construction of a new seiner.

The call for a ban on demersal seining has even overcome the historic disagreements between English and French fishers: they jointly protested on 9 May 2022 by meeting in the middle of the Channel to symbolise their unity around this problem. Indeed, while industrial fleets can move their units to other areas and perpetuate the sequential overexploitation of the ocean, coastal fishers are anchored to a limited territory and suffer the full blow of these models of “technological fisheries”.

Demersal seine already banned in Brittany, Aquitaine and Normandy

For these reasons, several regions in France have banned this gear in their territorial waters. It is the case for Aquitaine, Brittany and part of Normandy. In this sense, a French National Assembly report recommends “regulating uniformly at the national level vessels’ access to the twelve-mile band by prohibiting in this zone the use of certain particularly effective fishing gear, such as the demersal seine” [translated from French].

The 12 of July 2022, the members of the European parliament’s Committee on Fisheries will vote on an amendment tabled by MEP Caroline Roose, that aims to ban demersal seining from French territorial waters in the Channel.[5] This vote is decisive for marine ecosystems, since coastal waters are rich and productive areas, as well as important spawning locations. These seas are also the preferred fishing ground of coastal fishers.


[1] These data were published by Rolf Groeneveld, economist specialized in natural resources at the Wageningen University, on his blog.
[2] According to a deal between the Dutch industry and French, English and Belgian fishers, called the Gentleman agrement, which in the end was not conclusive.
[3] Rihan, D., Bailey, N. & Doerner, H. Reports of the scientific, technical and economic committee for fisheries (stecf) — evaluation of the landing obligation joint recommendations (stecf-16-10). (Scientific, Technical; Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), 2016).
[4] The Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) outlines “high discard rates for whiting in this fleet of 39% in 2013 and 79% in 2014.” Source : Rihan, D., Bailey, N. & Doerner, H. Reports of the scientific, technical and economic committee for fisheries (stecf) — evaluation of the landing obligation joint recommendations (stecf-16-10). (Scientific, Technical; Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), 2016).
[5] The amendment is available here.

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