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So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish!

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Tomorrow, on January 16, the European Parliament will vote for or against the restoration of the 1998 ban on electric pulse fishing.

For months, groups representing small-scale fishing fleets and environmental organisations across Europe have been sending letters to the European Commission to encourage the ban: “Not only is the seabed impacted by huge industrial nets, but marine organisms are brutalised — electrocution causes fracture of the spine, bruising, and burns.”

Electric Pulse Fishing in the context

Electric pulsing involves equipping fishing nets with electrodes which send an electric current through the seabed to “tickle” the fish from the bottom of the sea. Electric pulses cause a muscular convulsion in fish which forces it out of the seabed and into the net.

The 1998 ban was partially uplifted in 2006, but it was only meant to be a trial technique for about 5% of Dutch boats. This “temporary measure” has been practised ever since, by over 20% of Dutch fishing fleet.

Many environmental organisations call the practice barbaric and accuse the European Commission of crumbling under the pressure of Dutch fishing lobbies. Although the European Commission states that the practice is safer than the alternatives like trawling, that it reduces bycatch and cuts down on carbon dioxide emissions, so far there has been no concrete scientific proof to support the claim.

Barrie Deas, the chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations  (NFFO), said: “The extent to which pulse fishing is more or less impactful on the marine environment than conventional beam trawling is currently being studied. The outcome of this research will be significant in shaping future policy.”

The outcome of the vote is also uncertain because millions of public subsidies were allocated to support the electric pulse fishing. In the Netherlands, for example, an enormous amount of subsidies are spent on ‘research’, ‘innovation’ and ‘search for best practices’. Since August 2015, at least €5.7 million of public money was spent on the development of industrial electric fishing fleets, 67% of which comes from European funds.

The Public Reaction

More than 200 chefs from Spain, France, Italy and Germany agreed not to use fish caught by EPF

The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) calls the technique “industrial-scale electrocution of marine life”. “Proponents defend the electrocution of sea life by saying it is less harmful than the dredging practices currently carried out. This is like promoting cholera because it is better than a dose of the plague,” –  the Trust said.

The IWT wrote to all Irish MEPs, many of whom are already sceptical of the method. Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada worries about the “unknown effects” of electric pulse fishing. “The fact of the matter regarding pulse fishing is that we simply don’t know the long-term effects it will have on stocks or the environment,” – she said. “All we have are anecdotal, and often conflicting reports from various proponents from the industrial sector, many who have vested interests in the practice.

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Another MEP, Sean Kelly from Fine Gael, was completely against it. “It goes against the natural way – the nets are sufficient. You’d really have to have very strong research-based evidence that this is better than traditional fishing and conserves stocks better,” – he said.

The topic has even come up during the Brexit debates. Arron Brown, a spokesman for the Fishing for Leave campaign, said: “Nobody in the British public would accept if we went in fields tasering sheep. So I don’t see why we would be tasering fish either.”

All over Europe, protests are still heard against this type of fishing. 200 chefs across Europe pledged to stop using seafood obtained by the electric pulse fishing on January 11. “We refuse to work with seafood coming from a fishing method that condemns our future and that of the ocean,” – says Christopher Coutanceau, a two Michelin stars chef in La Rochelle, western France. Not only this kind of fishing is branded as immoral, but the catches are also reported to be of poor quality, caught while under stress and bruised.

Surprisingly, Greenpeace remains silent on the subject.

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