Electric fishing: new fraud and a new complaint against the Netherlands

For the third time, BLOOM has filed a complaint to the European Commission against the Netherlands on 18 September 2019.[1] In line with its behaviour over the past ten years, this Member State continues to ignore European laws. Despite the new Regulation (EU) 2019/1241 on “Technical Measures”, which entered into force on 14 August 2019 and enacts the phasing out of electric fishing, the Netherlands have yet again issued too many derogations to practice this destructive fishing method until it becomes fully banned on 1 July 2021.

Unjustifiable derogations

During the transitional period from the entry into force of the Regulation on 14 August 2019 to the full and definitive ban on electric fishing on 1 July 2021, a maximum of 5% of the beam trawlers’ fleet of each Member State can be authorised to conduct electric fishing.[2] The Netherlands has publicly acknowledged that it will breach this legal requirement in two ways:

  • The legal 5%-limit corresponds to a maximum of 15 vessels, not 22 as stated by the Dutch Minister for Fisheries, Carola Schouten;[3]
  • In addition, Ms Schouten has also announced that she will allow 20 additional vessels to continue their commercial activities under the guise of ‘scientific research’ until 31 December 2019, even though she has publicly acknowledged in March 2018 that this argument was fallacious.[4]

For Frédéric Le Manach, BLOOM’s Scientific Director, “this decision by the Dutch Minister was to be expected. The Netherlands has imposed its destructive fishing methods for years. They have suffered a memorable setback thanks to our campaign against electric fishing, but they intend to continue enjoying it to the fullest before it is fully banned, even if this means going so far as to violate the law.”

A passive European Commission

BLOOM had already notified this arrogant and unilateral decision by Carola Schouten to the European Commission, asking it to take actions against the Netherlands, in a letter dated 6 May 2019. BLOOM had received a short letter in return stating that “during the transitional period ending 30 June 2021, no more than 5% of the beam trawler fleet in each Member State will be able to use this gear under the conditions specified in the Technical Measures Regulation.” The European Commission should start taking our complaint seriously and assume its role as Guardian of the Treaty. As a reminder, the previous regulation already allowed the same number of derogations to be issued, but the Netherlands had misused articles dedicated to scientific research to illegally equip 62 vessels and thus reach 84 vessels.[5]  On 2 October 2017, BLOOM and then filed a first complaint. After referring the matter to the European Ombudsman due to the absence of response from the Commission, its Fisheries Department (DG MARE) had then finally acknowledged that the Netherlands was in fraud and asked the College of Commissioners to open an infringement procedure. BLOOM still awaits any news. “It has been over seven months since DG MARE acknowledged the fraud, but the file seems to have been forgotten by the College of Commissioners. We would not be surprised to learn that it has been shelved due to political stakes. Meanwhile, the Netherlands continues to violate the regulations in full view of us all. It is the Ocean and artisanal fishers who suffer, but also the public credibility of EU institutions” says Sabine Rosset, BLOOM’s director.

[1] The European Commission will acknowledge receipt of the complaint within 15 working days and will then, within 12 months, examine the complaint in order to decide whether to initiate a formal infringement procedure against the Netherlands.

[2] Annex V, part D of Regulation (EU) 2019/1241. Available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32019R1241&qid=1568725559058&from=EN. In addition, no new derogations can be issued.

[3] The EU fleet register indicates 308 beam trawlers (code “TBB”) as of 1 January 2019, of which 285 are equipped as ‘primary gear’. The Dutch authorities should therefore issue a maximum of 15 derogations.

[4] According to article 25 of the Regulation 2019/1241, “fishing operations conducted by commercial vessels for the purpose of scientific investigation shall be limited in time. When the fishing operations conducted by commercial vessels for a specific research involve more than six commercial vessels, the Commission shall be informed by the flag Member State at least three months in advance and shall seek, where appropriate, the advice of STECF to confirm that this level of participation is justified on scientific grounds; if the level of participation is not considered justified according to the advice of STECF, the concerned Member State shall amend the conditions of the scientific research accordingly.”

[5] In 2010, 20 derogations were granted under Article 43 of Regulation 850/98 on scientific research. In 2014, 42 additional licences were issued under Article 14 of Regulation 1380/2013 for a “pilot project” for a five-year period. The pilot project licenses expired on June 1, 2019 after being extended for several months by Minister Carole Schouten.

To go further

France and Belgium have banned electric fishing in their territorial waters by issuing a prefectoral decree and a ministerial order respectively.

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