European Commission acknowledges illegality of electric fishing

This is the second major victory for BLOOM after the Parliament’s vote for a full ban on electric fishing in January 2018. Almost a year and a half after our first complaint against the Netherlands on 2 October 2017 for illegal electric fishing licenses, the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs & Fisheries of the European Commission (DG MARE) has eventually acknowledged that BLOOM was right about the illegality of most fishing licences provided to electric fishing. The European Commission announced in a letter received Friday 1 February its intention to open « a formal infringement procedure against the Netherlands » for not respecting the law of the European Union. In October 2017, BLOOM revealed that the Netherlands had illegally granted 70 derogations (out of 84 in total) to Dutch trawlers in order to use electricity in the southern North Sea. The Commission’s response comes after BLOOM called on the European Ombudsman on 6 November 2018 for maladministration by the European Commission. The Defender of EU Rights, Emily O’Reilly, formally asked DG MARE to inform BLOOM on the status of our complaint by 31 January 2019.

Electric fishing is a highly efficient and destructive fishing technique, which threatens marine ecosystems and the economic balance of small-scale fishing communities.

The European Commission’s response comes just a few months before the European elections, at a moment of tense political negotiation when a full ban on electric fishing in Europe is becoming ever more possible.The European Commission confirms we were right from day 1” indicates BLOOM’s Scientific Director Frédéric Le Manach: “not only is electric fishing an environmental and social disaster, but it is also a huge case of fraud.”

Mathieu Colléter, Science & Policy Officer at BLOOM, regrets that this clarification is only occurring now, reminding that the European Parliament voted more than a year ago for a total ban on electric fishing based on the findings of BLOOM and a campaign by 23 environmental and fishers organizations. “We started our campaign to fight the electrocution of marine ecosystems and the disappearance of small-scale fishers. We had no idea we were going to dig up such a vast, multi-faceted scandal. Our investigations have exposed an entire network of toxic political and industrial influences, which the infringement procedure of the European Commission could seriously undermine… One has to bear in mind the implications in this file: if more than 80% of the fishing licenses are recognized as being illegal, the same goes for the millions of euros in public subsidies that have been allocated to electric fishing. This is turning into a vast European scam. We will not let go of this affair until it’s over,” alerted Mathieu Colléter.

Today, BLOOM sent a letter to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) to question the shocking conclusion of their preliminary investigation following a request by BLOOM and others for suspicion of fraud. “Dominoes are starting to fall,” explains Claire Nouvian, founder of BLOOM. “For many years, the Dutch fishing industry has benefitted from outrageous preferential treatment as well as millions of euros of public subsidies while causing the destruction of the ocean and small-scale fishers. Now they have to repair the damage they have caused. Repairing involves a ban on electric fishing in Europe, the immediate end of illegal licenses, the reimbursement of illegal subsidies and legal redress. We will fight this to the very end. It has become a matter of respect for democracy and a fight against moral corruption.

> Read BLOOM’s letter to OLAF

DG MARE’s Legal Affairs Unit indicates that it is “ultimately up to the College of Commissioners to decide whether to open or not such a procedure.  In a letter sent on 4 February 2019, BLOOM urges the 27 European Commissioners to validate without delay the Directorate-General for Fisheries’ request to open an infringement procedure against the Netherlands. A specific letter is addressed to the Commissioner for Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, urging him to swiftly conclude Trilogue negotiations and to support a total and definitive ban on electric fishing on 31 July 2019.

Many derogations soon to expire

In 2014, Dutch industrial fishers obtained 42 derogations to practice electric fishing, in addition to the 42 that already existed. This brought the total number of derogations to practice electric fishing in the southern part of the North Sea to 84. These 42 derogations — negotiated directly between the Netherlands and the European Commission — were granted as part of a ‘pilot project’ on the landing obligation for species under quota management, although the European Parliament had just refused the extension of electric fishing through the modernization of fishing fleets. These 42 ‘pilot projet’ derogations are expected to expire by the end of February, which we asked DG MARE to confirm.

Other resources

> Our advocacy document

> Our joint request to OLAF to open an investigation

> Our referral to the European Ombudsman and the analysis of subsidies allocated to electric fishing

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