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Shock and Grab Electric Fishing

With the quantity of opposing media stories online, It’s difficult to know when we are being fed a line.  Electric fishing or pulse fishing, depending on what side of the environmental fence you are placed, is one perfect example.  Of course, how we determine a name is extremely important.  It not only provides context but can enable the general public to passively accept a new concept without a flicker of resistance.

Proponents of pulse fishing technology will claim that the electric current is nothing more than a tingling sensation.  I have even seen James Clayton from BBC Newsnight putting his hand in an electrified tank with little ill effect. 


Of course, this is a ridiculous comparison.  If you found a human-sized finger bone in your Friday night cod, such a test may hold some credence.  However, you won’t and this will be one reason why the convulsing muscles in larger #Cod will cause their spines to break.


Let’s be honest, #ElectricFishing does not sound good.  We have been taught from a young age that water and electricity are not a safe mix.  UK Building Regulations prohibit electrical sockets within 3 metres of a shower or light switches within a bathroom, so how can electric fishing be allowed?  Well, it isn’t. 


EU’s Article 31 states that when fishing, “explosives, poisonous or stupefying substances or electric current shall be prohibited.”  It was no coincidence that this legislation came into effect in 1988, two years after the Netherlands attempted to commercialise electric #fishing. 


According to academic sources, “the ban reflected the fear that electro-trawls would lead to a rapid and uncontrolled increase in fishing efficiency.”  With 80% of world fish stocks now either fully or overexploited, this concern is now even more relevant. 


And yet the North Sea is now filled with approximately 75 Dutch and 12 British “pulse trawlers”  So how did this happen?  Well, this is where vested commercial interests become such a vital driver for change. 


The Netherlands presently owns 80% of the EU #DoverSole quota in the North Sea.  Once the money is invested, a decision has to be made; should one continue or consign money spent to Room 101 of poor investment choices. 


Despite the EU ban, when the Dutch company VerDutch burg-Holland B.V., approached their government for help for further research, support was forthcoming.  And why?  Academic sources state that according to a former Ministry employee it was “because the Ministry had already invested a lot in it.”  


In order to protect their spent costs and future profits, the Dutch government applied for and received a research license.  Of course, this smacks somewhat of the Japanese whaling research fiasco that blatantly used a similar legal loophole to continue reeling in the profits at the expense of the environment.


However, I will say that the EU was not duped or even a passive partner in this relationship.  They actively went against advice from the European Commission that “there are a number of issues that need to be resolved before any derogation can be granted.” 


These concerns were spinal damage in cod, the electric sensory systems in sharks, rays and skates and the effects on invertebrates.  This significant list was swept aside by the EU, and a derogation was granted for research.


There are now nearly 100 fishing vessels making it hard to still classify this as “research.”  The words nut and sledgehammer spring to mind.  However, the Netherlands government told Newsnight that they aim “to investigate the long-term effects of a large-scale introduction of pulse fishing in the North Sea ecosystem, explaining a relatively large number of participating vessels.”   


Now, don’t get me wrong.  We definitely need an alternative to the highly destructive beam trawling.  These trawlers are fitted with the rather quaintly named “tickler chains.”  These are in fact heavy metal chains stretched across the mouth of the net. 


When dragged along the ocean bed they dig up flatfish such as sole. They also damage the sea-bed. Of course, once damaged, ongoing damage is reduced.   Another ridiculous argument used for ongoing destructive fishing practices. 


Pulse fishing does reduce `#bycatch – the number of unwanted fish that are thrown overboard either dead or dying.  This is a very good thing.  However, Ministry of Economics infographics shows that at least 65% of pulse fishing remain bycatch so it’s important not to overplay this benefit. 


The other area of questionable improvement is that fuel consumption is reduced by 46% due to the removal of “tickler chains.”  On the surface, this looks great.  Fewer carbon emissions.  But not if this affords fisherman to spend 46% more time out at sea catching 46% more fish to line their pockets.  Then all the bycatch improvements would be an utter waste.


We have fishing quotas I hear you say.  Indeed, and scientific advice about ecological implications is regularly ignored in favour of commercial interests.  Powerful lobbying from the fisheries ensures our quotas keep rising and then there’s BREXIT. 


Furthermore, there is significant concern that their research into electric fishing has failed to achieve the academic rigour one would normally expect.  Monbiot questions not only their hypothesis but also their methodology and lack of control areas.  Reducing fishing vessels would go some way to making us believe this was actually research and not a smash and grab.


With an EU decision impending in 2019 about the long-term future of electric fishing, there are still a lot of unanswered questions.  If you want to prevent the full-scale plundering of our Seas then it’s time to make your voice heard.  Contact the Blue Marine Foundation or sign a petition.

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