22 November 2017
The European Parliament opens the door to the expansion of electric fishing
22 November 2017
Yesterday, the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee voted for a possible massive expansion of electric pulse fishing in Europe but a Plenary vote will occur so the results can still be turned around. All the amendments tabled by MEPs under the direct influence of Dutch Fishing industry lobbies – which were loudly present in the room and reminded by MEPs to behave – were adopted.
The main compromise amendment concerning electric pulse fishing In the Regulation on technical measures (2016/0074 (COD)) was adopted by 23 MEPs against 3. It approves the possible limitless commercial expansion of electric pulse fishing in Europe should research fail to demonstrate after four years “direct or cumulative negative impacts on marine habitats”.
“This language is catastrophic” assesses Claire Nouvian, Chair of Paris-based NGO BLOOM. “It opens a possible eternal scientific controversy which will be fed by industry researchers as we’ve seen with glyphosate. In the mean time, pulse fishers will keep on destroying the ocean and fishers livelihoods.” Additionally, pulse fishing is no longer considered a “destructive” fishing gear but an “innovative” one although there’s absolutely nothing innovative about pulse fishing. It has existed for decades and is banned precisely for its destructiveness around the world. “This semantic shift is insane” hammers Claire Nouvian. Just when nations are supposed to “end destructive fishing gears by 2020” according to Sustainable Development Goal n°14, Europe goes against the world trend to prohibit electric fishing.
“The text also reverses the scientific burden of proof in a perverse way that will now oblige researchers to waste time and money on proving that electrocuting wildlife is a bad idea!” said Frédéric Le Manach, BLOOM’s Scientific Director. To make matters worse, the Parliament’s Fisheries Committee even failed to replace the word “habitat” by “ecosystems” but electric gear being lighter than traditional beam trawls, it will be easy to show alleviated impacts on habitats while the problem remains whole for ecosystems. Small-scale fishers speak of a “graveyard” after the passage of electric trawls.
This appalling environmental decision bears dire social consequences for fishers across Europe. It also lamentably feeds the discourse of Euro-critiques by confirming that EU institutions are structured to respond positively to large-scale industrial lobbying but fail to embrace minimal environmental ambition or to encompass the social reality on the ground. Small-scale fishers gathered in the LIFE platform had written to MEPs several times prior to the vote to warn Parliamentarians of the direct impact pulse fishing has on the depletion of resources and the livelihoods of fishers, but obviously, the ongoing presence of Dutch industrial lobbies outweighed their advocacy efforts.
The worst case scenario of seeing the Fisheries Committee give a mandate to the rapporteur, the Spanish right wing (EPP) MEP Gabriel Mato, to go straight into Trilogue negotiations without a Plenary procedure was avoided by a close vote. This would have meant that yesterday’s vote would have become the European Parliament’s official position. “Thank God, with the Plenary vote, the European Parliament has a chance to demonstrate it can do better and at least, straighten up this unbelievable situation by which Europe finds itself in the position to authorize the large-scale development of a fishing technique that has been banned since 1998” concluded Claire Nouvian.
The Dutch Fishing industry has already communicated about a Plenary vote to occur rapidly, in February 2018, thus showing lobbies may fear the growing anger of citizens about this new environmental scandal.
In the North Sea, this 5% limit has even been removed and the Dutch can now equip 100% of their fleet with electric trawls. “This is a scandal from an environmental and social point of view,” says Frédéric Le Manach, BLOOM’s Scientific Director. “No rational justification supports such an outrageous position in favor of a handful of Dutch industrialists.”
In the framework of a review of the Regulation on technical measures 2016/0074 (COD), 23 MEPs against 3 approved a political compromise (compromise no. 10 on Article 24) to widely expand the number of trawlers in Europe. Indeed, this compromise allows to equip 5% of the fleet of each “trade” in “innovative” techniques, which now include electric fishing. In the North Sea, this 5% limit has even been removed and the Dutch can now equip 100% of their fleet with electric trawls.
In Europe, electric fishing has been banned since 1998, but derogations granted by the European Commission since the end of 2006 authorize each Member State to equip up to 5% of beam trawlers with electrodes to practice electric fishing in the North Sea (see map on BLOOM’s website). Despite the regulatory framework, the Netherlands equipped 28% of its beam trawlers with pulse fishing gear, which is completely illegal. In early October 2017, BLOOM filed a complaint against the Netherlands about these illegal licenses but the European Commission has not yet addressed the issue raised, nor has it answered the French MEP Pascal Durand’s priority question (dated October 19, 2017).
BLOOM’s petition to MEPs of the Fisheries Committee exceeded 84,000 signatures just before the vote.
To learn more about electric fishing : https://www.bloomassociation.org/en/our-actions/our-themes/electric-pulse-fishing/
 Compromise 10 on Article 24 of the Regulation on technical measures 2016/0074 (COD) has 3 parts, the exact language reads:
- When Member States submit joint recommendations in accordance with Article 18 to allow for the use or extend the use of innovative fishing gears including the pulse trawl as described in Part E of Annex V within a specific sea basin, they shall provide an assessment of the likely impacts of using such gears on the targeted species and on sensitive species and habitats. Such an assessment shall be based on use of the innovative gear during a trial period which shall be limited to no more than 5 % of the vessels currently in that metier for a period of at least four years.
- Those assessments shall be evaluated by the STECF.
- The use of innovative fishing gears shall only be permitted on a commercial scale where the assessment referred to in paragraph 1 indicates that in comparison with existing regulated fishing gear and techniques, their use will not lead to direct or cumulative negative impacts on marine habitats, including sensitive habitats or non-target species.