UKIP slam European Commission for "ignoring scientific warning" over pulse fishing, threatening environmental catastrophe.

Published Jan 09, 2018

New report highlights how EU Commissioners ignored own scientific advice to allow destructive fishing method blamed for making the seabed “a desert.”

UKIP fisheries spokesman, Mike Hookem MEP, has blasted EU Commissioners for allowing Dutch fishers to use the “grotesque and highly destructive” electro-pulse fishing method on British fishing grounds; despite being warned by scientific advisors against a derogation from the EU’s ban on fishing with electricity.

A seething Mr Hookem - who has campaigned against electro-pulse fishing for over two years - described the move as, “a blatant disregard of the environmental impacts and scientific evidence to assist an ailing Dutch fishing fleet through profit creation!” A new report by the Low Impact Fishers of Europe organisation (LIFE), today revealed that despite EU claims that Commissioners were advised “to allow” electro-pulse fishing in two sections of the North Sea; STECF – the EU’s own committee of experts on fisheries – actually advised against granting ‘experimental’ licences until the impacts of pulse trawl fisheries on non-target species and the potential impact on vertebrates and invertebrate species had been “resolved.”

However, despite growing evidence from fishers across Europe that electro-pulse fishing methods are highly destructive to the marine ecology, the European Parliament will vote next week on relaxing the rules on electro-pulse fishing.

Speaking during a lobbying tour of the European Parliament, Mr Hookem said, “It would seem in this case that the EU Commission has ignored its own scientific advice in order to grant a licence simply to chase profit - which is, in my opinion, typical of these un-elected bureaucrats.”

“By doing so, the EU Commission has given in to the demands of the powerful Dutch fisheries lobby, rather than discharging their duties in the interests of what is right for all European fishers.

“While the Dutch are keen to promote electro-pulse fishing as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional beam fishing, nothing could be further from the truth!

“More and more evidence is coming to light showing how the electric used is snapping the spines of mature codfish. Evidence also points to electro-pulse killing vertebrates and invertebrate species; eradicating most life on the seabed. Add the continued damage that the dragging of pulse trawls continues to do to the seabed, and the potential for overfishing of target stocks due to the efficiency of this method, and we have the potential for an ecological disaster in British and EU waters.

“Let’s not forgot; this fishing method is already banned in China for simply being too efficient! Yet, the European Parliament is set to relax the rules. It’s absolute craziness!

“And it is not just British fishers who are reporting damage to both fish and fishing grounds! French, Belgium, and even non-electro-pulse Dutch fishers are all saying the same thing – that traditional catches are being wiped out as the Dutch electro-pulse boats reap the rewards.

“That is why I have drafted several amendments to be considered in plenary next week, calling for an outright ban on this destructive and dangerous form of fishing.

“These amendments are not aimed at just protecting British fishing grounds, but also the fishing grounds and stocks used by small-scale, French, Belgian and Dutch fishers who are all seeing their livelihood destroyed.

“Let’s not forget that fishing with electricity is illegal in the EU. Therefore, if MEPs are serious about protecting the marine environment and conserving fish stocks, they will vote for a ban on this most destructive practice.”

Letter to the European Commission from the Low Impact Fisheries of Europe Organisation (LIFE):

General notes and quotes on electro-pulse fishing: What is Electro-Pulse Fishing?

Electric/electro-pulse fishing is a fishing technique which produces a limited electric field above the seabed to catch fish. The pulse trawl gear consists of a number of electrodes, attached to the gear in the tow direction, that emit short electric pulses. The electrodes replace the tickler chains (lengths of chain that scrape the seabed to make bottom-dwelling fish move into the water) that are used in traditional beam trawl fishery. The electro-pulse trawl fishery is mainly aimed at flatfish such as sole, with a by-catch of plaice, cod and other species such as sprat and sand eel. In addition, the pulse trawl gear is applied in shrimp fisheries on a limited scale. The name ‘pulse fishing’ is, however, something of a misnomer. Pulse fishing uses electric current. Field evidence shows that the currents used on electric trawlers use a tension of 50V as well as an intensity of 60A. The intensity is the parameter that causes the danger to life in electric currents. However, the intensity is unregulated in electro-pulse trawling. While Dutch ‘pulse’ operators claim the electric parameters deployed are designed to “tickle the fish", a majority of the large cod caught with electric currents show fractured spines and internal bleeding, as do target species.

The Legal and Practical Current Situation:

Technically, the use of electricity to catch fish is prohibited in European waters and was banned by the EU in 1998 under Council Regulation (EC) No 850/98 for the conservation of fishery resources through technical measures for the protection of juveniles of marine organisms. However, since 2007, “experimental” exemptions have been provided in the North Sea at the request of the Netherlands, with 5% of the trawler fleet of each Member State being authorized to be equipped with pulse fishing gears in 2007 (European Community (2007) Council Regulation (EC) No 41/2007 of 21 December 2006 fixing for 2007 the fishing opportunities and associated conditions for certain fish stocks and groups of fish stocks, applicable in Community waters and, for Community vessels, in waters where catch limitations are required. Official Journal L 15: 244.) The first Dutch boat was equipped in 2009 and was quickly followed by 19 others boats until the 5%-quota was reached in 2010.

However, the EU Commission granted a further 22 additional derogations and 10% of the Dutch fleet were equipped. These exemptions are now mainly used by Dutch and British ‘flagship’ trawlers (Dutch-owned vessels listed on the UK register) in the North Sea ICES Zone 4C (illustrated below) and certain parts of Belgium and French waters, allowed under bilateral treaties. However, it is not just the fishermen saying that electro-pulse is damaging. In June 2000, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) confirmed that "there is ample evidence that electrofishing can cause serious harm to fish and the overall position of the Agency is to encourage searchers for other less invasive means. The WWF had issued its opinion in 2006 on electric fishing, referring to "a destructive fishing method" with effects "very harmful on sharks and skates, sensitive to electricity". Not to mention the "unknown impacts on the marine ecosystem.” The oldest French environmental protection association, Robin des Bois, said in a 2012 and 2014 press release that “it qualifies this fishing as "taser[ing] for soles,” and goes on to say elector-pulse fishing causes "unknown damage to shellfish, crustaceans, plankton and non-target fish species. Fish caught in trawls show burns, bruises and skeletal deformations following electrocution.”

British fisherman say:

Tom Brown of the Ramsgate Fishermen’s Association says, “In the Thames estuary, we have an area between the Knock and Falls that is just outside our 12-mile limit. In the past, the traditional beam trawlers could not work there because of the soft ground; we only had the occasional French trawlers. However, for the past four years, we have been inundated with Pulse trawlers. This area is well known to us as being a Dover sole feeder area for the Thames estuary. In the wintertime when the sea turns cold the sole heads for deep water and buries itself in the mud.

With the advent of the Pulse trawlers, they have become vulnerable. When the Pulse Beamers first fished this area, they couldn’t believe how lucrative it could be, so much so that they were rushing back to port changing crews and coming back out again. To top it all, they were bragging about it on the radio.”

“Four years later the Thames estuary has become almost devoid of fish to the point that a number of fishermen have gone out of business and the boats fishing in the Estuary declined. Possibly this is partially due to the excessive dredging that is being carried out in the Thames, but I’m sure also Pulse trawling plays its part.”

There is growing evidence that electro-pulse fishing is seriously damaging not only target fish stocks, put the whole ecology of the seabed, with reports of cod being left with broken backs and effects on other ‘bycatch’ species such as sprat and sand eel. In fact, the three studies carried out over the last 10-years which look at the impact of electro-pulse on marine life show: 50-70% of the large cods caught with electricity had their spine broken and internal haemorrhages caused by the electric current The survival rate of discarded fish is very low for undersized fishes: only 15% survival for plaice, 29% for sole, and 16% for dab. That electric currents may result in a weakened immune system for invertebrates

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