Electric fishing: new referral to the European Ombudsman

Given the Netherlands’ repeated violations of EU law regarding electric fishing and given the European Commission’s failure to respond to our complaints and address this severe issue, BLOOM has once again called on the European Ombudsman and asks that sanctions finally be imposed on this factious Member State.

An absurd situation

As a result of BLOOM’s campaign against electric fishing, the Netherlands had to withdraw a large number of licenses to practice electric trawling: from 84 to 22 during the second half of 2019. However, there are still too many, as this Member State should only have 15 derogations — valid until June 2021, at which time a total ban on this destructive practice will be enforced[1]. In the face of this governmental insubordination, the European Commission continues to turn a blind eye to our warnings and complaints.[2] On 19 March 2020, BLOOM sent an ultimatum to Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, demanding that strong measures be taken against the Netherlands.[3] The European Commission nonchalantly replied that “the Commission is neither in a position to provide [us] with an accurate state of play, nor to make any statement concerning compliance with the concerned EU provisions“. This response is unacceptable given that the Commission is fully aware of the repeated fraud committed by the Netherlands. The Commission should already have all the data needed to address our complaint, but it appears that it cannot perform a simple cross product…

BLOOM first appealed to the European Ombudsman in November 2018. Her intervention was fruitful: DG MARE had to acknowledge the Netherlands’ infringement in a letter received on 1 February 2019, but since then no infringement procedure has been initiated. “Processing our complaint and initiating a formal procedure of infringement does not pose any particular difficulties, it simply is a clear lack of political will. We are calling on the European Ombudsman once again to force the European Commission to act on this case. This has gone on long enough. We demand a swift response that is commensurate with the seriousness of the infringements that the Netherlands has committed for years“, says Frédéric Le Manach, BLOOM’s scientific director.

A newly converted trawler in 2020

Moreover, Dutch lobbies continue to openly trample European laws: on 15 April 2020, Dutch newspapers reported that a new German trawler, under Dutch capital, had been equipped for electric fishing. Yet the regulation is clear: no new derogation can be granted during the transitional period, i.e. until 30 June 2021, when electric fishing will be totally and definitively banned.[4]This example illustrates the extent to which Dutch lobbies think they can act with impunity. They should try to conceal their offense but instead proudly communicate about them in the media. This new equipment also demonstrates that electric fishing is extremely prolific, as it will pay for itself within a year,” analyses Laetitia Bisiaux, a project manager at BLOOM. This obvious profitability explains the relentless mobilization of the Netherlands to defend this destructive fishing gear at all costs. In particular, their Minister in charge of fisheries, Carola Schouten, did not hesitate to refer the matter to the Court of Justice of the European Union to try to have the ban on electric fishing lifted. This is adding insult to injury, given the extent of this venture’s illegality.

A laissez-faire policy that is harmful to fishers

The European Commission has allowed the Netherlands to impose its will on itself, with the serious consequences of threatening the very survival of coastal communities in the North Sea. While a handful of large shipowners have become richer and more powerful, small-scale coastal fishers have seen their turnover plummet. No financial support can alleviate the serious damages they still endure due to the greed of a few industrials and the voluntary inaction of the European Commission, which clearly condones the Netherlands’ violations.

BLOOM counts on the European Ombudsman to ensure that European regulations are finally respected: it is urgent that the European Commission acts as the Guardian of the Treaties and takes the necessary sanctions against the Netherlands. More than speeches and postures, BLOOM demands strong actions and will continue to fight on this case. The future of our marine ecosystems and small-scale fishers, as well as the credibility of our institutions are at stake.

Notes and references

[1] Each Member State may equip a maximum of 5% of its beam trawl fleet with electricity. The Netherlands had 305 beam trawlers on 5 June 2020, which corresponds to 15 derogations.

[2] To denounce the Dutch illegal derogations, BLOOM filled two complaints: one on 2 October 2017 and another one in 18 September 2019.

[3] At his hearing, the Commissioner said: “Legislation is only as good as its implementation. I would work closely with the Member States to improve that implementation in all policy areas. Using every tool at my disposal, that includes dialogue, the Environment implementation review, infringement proceedings and the EU court. We need laws that work for our citizens, for environment and for oceans and fisheries and for businesses across the EU“.

[4] Article 7 of Regulation (EU) 1241/2019.


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