Electric fishing: will artisanal fishers be betrayed?

While the European trilogue that must decide the fate of electric fishing in Europe has not yet settled on the prohibition of this destructive fishing method, Dutch industrials are in Paris[1] today to meet with the French fishers’ national representatives (the Comité national des pêches maritimes et des élevages marins — CNPMEM in French), but without the artisanal fishers who are directly impacted by electric fishing.

The worst is to be feared, as Dutch industrial fishing lobby VisNed has proceeded similarly in the United Kingdom to secure an agreement allowing electric fishing in dedicated areas. This hasty agreement was reached on December 2017 between VisNed and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations (NFFO) and denounced by British fishers who, despite NFFO’s public commitments, were not invited to the meeting that was to decide on their fate and which was held two days before Christmas 2017 in a secret and hasty way prior to the vote of the European Parliament (on 16 January 2018, the European Parliament voted for a full and definitive ban on electric fishing in Europe). British fishers were appalled by this illegitimate agreement and accused the NFFO of only representing industrial interests, especially foreign ones. In France, tensions between fishers’ ‘representatives’ and artisanal fishers are identical, the latter accusing the former of not only defending them but also of betraying their interests.

>Read our advocacy document against electric fishing.

In fact, the artisanal fishers from the North of France, who are suffering from electric fishing, have good reasons to be concerned about this meeting, given that the position of their national committee has radically shifted between 2014 and 2018. Four years ago, it went so far as to assume the role of a ‘whistleblower’ in a public statement: “the Committee strongly reaffirms its opposition to the use of electric trawl and looks forward to the position of NGOs to ‘help in this ecological fight’“.[2] On the eve of the European Parliament’s vote in January 2018, though, the Committee wrote to MEPs to encourage them to vote for an extension of electric fishing in all European waters and unlimited authorization in the North Sea within four years in case no negative effects were proven!

Note that many French industrial companies were bought by the Dutch, including Parlevliet & Van der Plas or Cornelis Vrolijk.[3] The latter are particularly enthusiastic about electric fishing, to which they have converted their entire trawl fleet.[4] They do not seem to be willing to give up as easily the possibility of using electric currents within the French fleets that they bought (notably Dhellemmes). As MP Jean-Pierre Pont reminded us, Dutch industrials “can pressure us in several ways: fishing quotas, shipbuilding, Dutch capital in French companies etc.“.[5]

Exasperated by hidden maneuvers within fishing authorities in France, Claire Nouvian warned: “It is time to drop the masks and that those within the Committee who work for Dutch industrials take their responsibilities and publicly acknowledge their position. They will have to explain it to the French, who are fiercely opposed to electric fishing and are worried about the fate of artisanal fishers“. Interviewed by national TV on 29 April, BLOOM’s Chair alerted the public opinion that artisanal fishers were often betrayed by their representatives.[6]

As long as the Committee is playing this dangerous double game, European negotiations cannot lead to a full ban on electric fishing. On 6 March 2018, national MPs took a clear and unanimous stance against this fishing method, but the French government follows the same strategy as the fisheries Committee: despite a public position that satisfies citizens and artisanal fishers, nothing is done to secure a full and definitive ban on electric fishing in Europe. It is still industrials that pull the hidden strings of political decision. Nobody’s a fool“, said Claire Nouvian, “but it must stop“.

BLOOM asks the Committee to defend the French position and that of the European Parliament, that is to say a full and definitive ban on electric fishing, without derogation.

To go further

  • On 21 March 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron met the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. During an open press conference, in response to a journalist’s question, the French President affirmed the position of France, favoring a total ban on electric pulse fishing: “I assure you that I am not in favor of electric fishing. I know that this subject is very controversial among our fishers. I also know that it has been proven to have a damaging effect on fish stocks and therefore I think that the European decision was a good one, (…) We will find other methods but we will do it intelligently in order to preserve the both of them, as well as the interests of our fishers”
    Read our report
  • On 16 April 2018, BLOOM files a second complaint to the European Commission against the Netherlands, for non-publication of the list of public subsidies’ beneficiaries between 2007 and 2014.

Notes and references

[1] See VisNed’s newsletter dated 11 April 2018: https://visned.nl/puls-visserij/385-puls-blijft-aandacht-vragen

[2] See their press release of 13 March 2014, available at: http://cluster013.ovh.net/~comitepe/wp-content/uploads/CP_le-CNPMEM-veut-court-circuiter-le-chalut-.pdf

[3] Dutch group Parlevliet & Van der Plas have bought or invested in major French industrial companies such as Euronor, Compagnie des Pêches de Saint-Malo, Compagnie Française du Thon Océanique etc. Cornelis Vrolijk has done similarly with companies Dhellemmes and France Pélagique.

[4] www.cornelisvrolijk.eu/Innovation

[5] See verbatim record of the first sitting of 6 March 2018: www.assemblee-nationale.fr/15/cri/2017-2018/20180152.asp

[6] Claire Nouvian’s interview is available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUA7NJtILT0, the section on electric fishing beginning at 36min 19s.

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