EU Parliament votes to ban pulse fishing

MEPs have voted to ban so-called pulse fishing, the technique that kills fish and other marine life indiscriminately with a powerful electric shock.

Fishing vessel | Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

19 Jan 2018

Deputies from various groups in Parliament, including the Greens, Liberals, Socialists and EFDD, joined forces in calling for an end to the “destructive” practice, which is blamed for creating “deserts” on the sea bed wherever it is used.

The issue was voted on in Strasbourg on Wednesday as part of a package of measures governing technical measures for European fisheries.

EFDD group MEP Mike Hookem welcomed moves to ban the “grotesque” electro-pulse fishing method in Europe, saying the decision was “right for the ecology; right for the environment; and right for fishing communities.”


Hookem, whose comments came following a vote on new common fisheries policy (CFP) measures, had backed a campaign to ban the electro-pulse technique, which is said to have “decimated” areas of North Sea fishing grounds.

In practice, the technique is used mainly by the Dutch fishing fleet to land large and lucrative hauls of flat fish such as sole, plaice and turbot while laying waste to stretches of the continental shelf. 

The electro-pulse fishing technique produces an electrical field on the seabed while dragging a net to catch ‘stunned’ fish which rise towards the surface.

However, fishermen across northern Europe have blamed serious damage to the marine ecology on the electro-pulse method; saying, there is growing scientific and empirical evidence that electro-pulse fishing is damaging target fish stocks and the ecology of the seabed. The technique is already banned in China, Brazil and the USA.

Hookem said he wanted to “congratulate all those who had worked so hard to raise awareness of this critical issue.”

He said areas of the seabed off the Norfolk coast had become “a desert” due to electro-pulse fishing.

Hookem said, “Electro-pulse fishing threatened the very existence of many small-scale fishers working off the UK’s south-east coast, so this is a considerable victory.

“The campaign to stop pulse fishing had seen a great deal of resistance from richly-resourced Dutch groups with a vested interest; however, common sense has overcome sheer greed, and the vote to end the grotesque practice is very welcome.”

His comments are echoed by ECR group MEP Julie Girling who wanted to end a legal loophole which, she said, for a decade has allowed pulse fishing in limited areas for “scientific purposes”.

She said, “There is no good scientific justification for this to be going on. It is purely a commercial exercise which is hugely destructive for marine life and sea-bed ecosystems.”

The EU first banned electric fishing in 1998 along with other destructive techniques such as use of explosives and poison.

However, in 2006 the Netherlands sought and was granted a derogation to allow pulse fishing for scientific research and that still continues.

The Dutch have been widely condemned for using the derogation as a legal cover for commercial pulse fishing in the same way that Japan has claimed scientific justification for whaling.

Fishing crews drive electric terminals into the seabed before firing a powerful electric charge between the two. The pulse kills not only the adult flatfish on the sea bed but also most fry, worms, shellfish and crustaceans, sometimes for hundreds of yards around.

Girling said, “As a fishing technique is very efficient and cheap - but it leaves nothing behind.

“The effect is devastating. British fishing crews in the south east say that in some places they cross out of the British 12-mile protected zone and then find nothing there.

“Marine life has all but disappeared because of pulse fishing, not just the marketable fish but all the smaller ones and all the bait species such as lugworms.

“To much damage has been done already to the environment, to fish stocks and to our fishing grounds. It has to stop.”


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