European parliament votes to prohibit electric pulse fishing

Published on
January 22, 2018

Members of the EU Parliament (MEPs) have voted in favor of banning commercial fishing in the bloc’s waters using the so-called “pulse fishing” method. 

This controversial technique, which sees vessels transmit a current of electricity to sections of the seabed to disturb fish – particularly sole – and send them toward the nets, is heavily criticized by conservationists who claim that it is cruel and destructive to ecosystems. Conversely, those in favor of pulse fishing believe that it is more cost-effective and a less destructive method than, for example, beam trawling.

Pulse fishing has technically been illegal in the EU since 1998, but for the last 10 years there has been an exception allowing member states to catch up to 5 percent of their annual fishing quota in the North Sea using "innovative methods" in the name of research. The Netherlands, which has been testing the technique to evaluate its effects, is the biggest user of pulse fishing in the EU, with permits issued to an estimated 80 trawlers.

The 402 to 232 vote for prohibition on electric pulse fishing in European waters was welcomed by the NGO community and campaigners.

Claire Nouvian, founder of French conservation group Bloom, said the outcome was a “tremendous victory” for the ocean, for artisanal fishers and Europe; while Our Fish Programme Director Rebecca Hubbard said the vote also showed that new fishing methods must be studied on the basis of independent science before they are introduced for commercial use.

“Instead of developing another industrial fishery with high exploitation capacity, EU governments must get back to the urgent job of ending overfishing and deliver truly sustainable fisheries management that benefits our marine ecosystems and coastal fishing communities,” said Hubbard.

EU Parliament will now enter into negotiations with the European Commission and member states to agree a package of measures to streamline regulations for fishing. 

The Netherlands can continue testing pulse fishing until the new legislation comes into force.

While it cheered the ban on pulse fishing, WWF said another vote by MEPs had missed the chance to protect the marine environment and fish stocks by adopting text that merges 33 different pieces of existing legislation that regulate how, when and where fishers must conduct their fishing activities. Instead, it wanted to see “coherent” European-wide rules to prevent endangered, threatened or protected species, including seabirds, cetaceans and turtles from being fatally entangled in fishing nets and gears as well as “concrete targets and deadlines” to protect juvenile fish.

“The European Union has missed an important opportunity to improve fishing sustainability and reduce the negative impacts of fishing activities on the marine environment,” said Samantha Burgess, head of marine policy for WWF Europe.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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