Scientific offensive to save electric fishing

Electric fishing defenders line up scientific ducks in desperate attempt to avoid full ban

Science has decidedly played a central role in the European electric fishing dossier.

For a month, science has been used by Dutch politicians and fishing industry to try to legitimize electric ‘pulse’ fishing. Far from bringing new elements to the debate, this scientific offensive aims at falsely depicting electric fishing as a sustainable fishing technique, by notably comparing it to one of the most destructive fishing gears: beam trawling. Although scientific publications have indicated numerous problems caused by electric fishing, the ardent defenders of pulse trawling systematically dismiss or ignore data that incriminate the use of electric current.

At first, science was tramped

From the very beginning, science was called upon by corrupt policy makers to legitimize granting derogations to a destructive and prohibited fishing technique. But our investigation has shown that the scientific advice the European Commission was using to justify its biased 2006 decision actually said the exact contrary: that derogations SHOULD NOT be granted to catch fish with electricity.

> Read our revelations on the initial corrupt political decision and our fully detailed information document

But the dice was cast: politicians and fishing industry, acting hand in hand, as is regrettably too often the case, had decided that no matter what, electric fishing would go on at commercial scale in the Netherlands.

They therefore used science yet again as an excuse to justify granting exemptions far beyond the threshold they had inscribed in the law via the initial scandalous 2006 decision.

> Find out about the legal tricks used by politicians and industrial fishers to expand number of licences far beyond regulatory framework (from page 5)

But recent findings by Dutch investigative journalist have exposed that science was nothing but a mere excuse to conduct commercial activities and that the vast majority of Dutch electric trawlers had never even remotely participated in scientific research.

> Read the article published in NOS on 25 March 2018 in Dutch here, our translation in English here

A full ban on electric fishing, as voted for by the European Parliament on 16 January 2018, should therefore not only be adopted because the prohibition should have never been lifted in the first place or because using electricity leads to harmful consequences both ecologically and socially, but also because the electric fishing dossier, in itself, reveals how profoundly biased and corrupt fisheries matters are at EU and national levels.

As a reminder, the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour of a definitive prohibition of electric fishing and several Member States defend such a position. Moreover, BLOOM filed two complaints against the Netherlands: one about the illegality of the majority of electric fishing licences granted to Dutch ships, and one about the failure to comply with the EU’s financial transparency requirements to disclose data about the public subsidies allocated to its fleets between 2007 and 2014.

Faced with this situation, electric fishing defenders have mobilized science for a special political mission: to save electric fishing from an EU-wide ban. Public authorities (EU Commission, Dutch government) and fishing industry (VisNed, Vissersbond, EMK) are so deeply implicated in this European scandal that they are now bound to try all they can to avoid taking responsibility for the current mess.

Science under influence

This time, they have lined up allies to ensure that foul scientific language would be available for a political “coup”: to wrap up EU negotiations on electric fishing (as part of the “Trilogue” negotiations on the “Technical Measures” Regulation) without banning this destructive fishing method. They needed to find a subterfuge powerful enough to burry the multi-layered scandal electric fishing is. And they did.

The subterfuge came in a strand of scientific reports: first, the Belgian Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO) published extravagant data asserting that electricity increased embryos survival (!), then the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) published its response to a Dutch government request on electric fishing: nothing new in the data they present but the tone has changed, allowing electric fishing defenders to market it as “sustainable”.

> Read our analysis of the data published on 4 May 2018 by Belgian Research institute ILVO, which sought to look at the impacts of electric current on the eggs and larvae of soles but bears fundamental flaws and questionable methodology.

> Read our political and scientific analysis of the ICES scientific opinion, released on 30 May 2018 in response to the special request by the Netherlands to compare electric trawling to traditional beam trawling.

According to BLOOM, the ICES scientific opinion is particularly shocking because science is so conspicuously serving political objectives, which contradicts the very mission of this international scientific body. BLOOM has therefore requested ICES to be fully transparent on the drafting process, which led to the production of such a weak, politically biased scientific piece.

> Read our request to ICES for explanations and full transparency

Concomitantly, BLOOM has also requested the French Research Institute IFREMER to disclose the data they hold on juvenile mortality due to electric current. The IFREMER institute was called on by a seabass hatchery (Aquastream) located in Brittany to expertise the reasons behind extremely high rates of juvenile mortality. One of which seems to have been the presence of mild electric current leaks. This critical document, which can shed pivotal light on the true impacts of electric fishing during EU negotiations should be publicly available but isn’t. On the contrary, IFREMER deleted all mentions of its existence from its website.

> Read BLOOM’s request to the IFREMER

Fishers organizations and NGOs have joined forces to campaign for a full ban on electric fishing. Today, they publish their joint position which has been sent out to all EU decision makers. They expect scientists, Member States and the European Commission to live up to the expectations of European citizens to arbitrate matters with integrity, impartiality and with a constant strive to implement Europe’s commitments to restore its marine ecosystems, biodiversity, to safeguard our common future and the survival of traditional fishers as well as to defend the general interest against private interests.

> Read the joint position of 25 fishermen organizations and environmental NGOs

The next Trilogue negotiation between the European Commission, Parliament and Council is due to be held some time in June 2018. It will be a true test of reliability and trust in public decision making. The Parliament, citizens and traditional & small-scale fishers will agree to nothing less than a full and definitive ban on all fishing with electric current.

Read the press release in Dutch

Read the press release in French

Read the press release in Spanish

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