Electric sting: Dutch fleet reported for electrifying fish

Fish caught by pulse fishing presents ulcers and other wounds. [ILVO/Ghent University]

The Netherlands has overissued licenses for ‘pulse fishing’, a practice the EU banned between 1998 and 2007, and has been reported to the European Commission. EURACTIV’s partner Journal de l’Environnement reports.

Pulse fishing was banned when the regulation on the conservation of fishery resources in the EU was passed in 1998, also outlawing fishing by explosive, poisons and sleep-inducing substances.

But the Dutch, who had long been lobbying in favour of this method, finally got what they wanted when the regulation was modified in 2007 to allow pulse fishing, provided that it concerns less than 5% of the whole national fleet.

The practice consists of applying electrodes to the keel, sending electroshocks in the sediment to capture flatfish species living in it. The fish are then pulled in by trawlers.

A method strongly criticised for its environmental impacts: “The dead fish coming afloat often show signs of burns, ecchymosis and skeletal deformation following electroshock”, says the NGO Bloom.

The issue: according to Bloom, they have gone beyond the legal quota of 5%, which is the core argument of a complaint they filed with the European Commission.

Numbers don’t add up

On 1 January 2007, the Dutch fleet had 372 vessels, allowing for a maximum of 18 exemptions. Yet Amsterdam issued 22 in that year.

Ten years later, on 20 September 2017, the Dutch fleet had shrunk to 304 – allowing for 15 licenses. But according to Bloom, 84 are currently operational.

High voltage

The Netherlands has also defied the maximum voltage authorised by the EU (15 V), allowing vessels to mount 40 and 60 V electrodes and causing even greater environmental damage.

European funds

Finally, the NGO has calculated that since 1 August 2015, the Dutch fishing fleet has been publicly subsidised with €5.7 million, of which €3.8m (67%) come from the EU.

In February 2017, France opposed attempts to lift the ban on pulse fishing, currently under discussion in the EU due to proposed amendments to the regulation on the conservation of fishery resources. The European Parliament will debate the issue on 9 and 10 October.

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