I am calling on all British MEPs to show some national unity to defeat EU measures which seek to legitimise and expand the role of electro-pulse fishing in British waters in the following letter, setting out how British fishing communities face oblivion in the face of expanded electro-pulse fishing efforts by Dutch vessels should the latest EU measures be passed by the European Parliament.

Now is the time to put national interests above party divides.

Dear colleagues,

I am writing to you, not as a party or group spokesman. Instead, I am writing as someone determined to protect British fishing communities from the potentially damaging effects of the EP report entitled “Conservation of fishery resources and the protection of marine ecosystems through technical measures (COM(2016)0134- C8-0117/2016 – 2016/0074(COD))”, which we as MEPs are to vote on in the Strasbourg plenary next week.

Over the last few days, you may have noticed a number of communications from various groups explaining the potentially damaging effects of electro-pulse fishing on fish stocks, the marine environment, and the ecology of UK and European fishing grounds.

In the above report – to be debated in Monday’s plenary session prior to a later vote – there are a number of articles that seek to legitimise and expand the experimental licences granted to EU fishers to use the electro-pulse method of fishing in southern sections of the North Sea.

Electric 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. Field evidence shows that the currents used on electric trawlers use a tension of 50V as well as an intensity of 60A. The intensity of the current is the parameter that causes the danger to life. However, the intensity is currently unregulated in electro-pulse trawling.

The 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 also applied to shrimp fisheries on a limited scale.

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).

However, it has now been established that the 2006 decision to grant the experimental licence was done against the advice of STECF – the EU’s own committee of fisheries experts. Since the 2006 decision, many countries around the world have banned the practice of electro-pulse fishing, including China in 2010, where the method was described as being simply “too efficient” and greatly damaging to the marine environment and stocks.

It would also seem that since the decision was taken to grant experimental licences, a great deal of formal and anecdotal evidence has come to light that bears out STECF’s concerns.  

According to those promoting electro-pulse fishing, the practice causes less damage to the seabed and gives a 50% decrease in fuel consumption in relation to fishing effort; due to no longer having to drag chains. While the reduction in fuel could potentially be borne out, many of the other claims can be quickly disproved.

“Electric trawls are still bottom trawls, no matter how hard the Dutch fishing industry is trying to market bottom trawls as “floating wings,”

say the Bloom Association, who are campaigning against the technique.

“Electric trawls are heavy gears dragged along the bottom, which negatively impacts marine habitats. The fact that electric trawls are lighter than regular beam trawls does indeed generate a slightly lower impact on habitats, but having less impact than the worst type of bottom trawls certainly does not mean that it is impact-less. Such an outrageous statement is simply not true or backed by any data. Even in a report from Wageningen UR Laboratory, it is reported that the trawl shoe penetrates the six centimetres into the sediment and the electrodes penetrate half a centimetre into the seafloor. In NO WAY can anyone assert that electric trawls “hover” over the seafloor. They don’t.”

The fact is, little research has been conducted into the medium-and long-term impacts of pulse fishing.

Of the thirteen peer-reviewed articles produced by EU-based academics on pulse fishing, only three have dealt with the impacts of the technique on marine life – while the others have only dealt with economic questions. Their conclusions are not “positive” as claimed by the Dutch propaganda.

The three studies conducted that did look at the impact on marine life found:

  • 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

Other international organisations have been equally damning in their criticism of this fishing method:

  • 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 electro-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.”

Anecdotally, British fishers have been reporting impacts on their traditional fishing grounds. One Fisher, Mr Paul Lines, who operates in the North Sea pulse zone (ICES Zone 4C), says

“when we fish outside of the 12-nautical-mile zone, it’s a desert. Everything is gone, there are no gastropods left. It’s all been wiped out and going beyond the 12-mile zone is a waste of time.”

In light of this new evidence, efforts are now being made by members of the PECH committee to have the vote on the Conservation of fishery resources, and the protection of marine ecosystems through technical measures report postponed until an urgent hearing can be organised with the European Commission.

However, as it stands, the vote to legitimise and expand the use of electro-pulse fishing will still go ahead next week.

Therefore, I would like to appeal for your help in protecting not only British fishing grounds from this practice but also those of our close European neighbours in France, Belgium and the Netherlands who are equally concerned that this fishing method is making traditional fishing areas “a desert.”

I have therefore tabled three amendments aimed at protecting both British and European fishers from the increasing threat of electro-pulse fishing and would like your support in protecting the livelihoods of fishing communities up and down Britain.

Firstly, I would like your support in ensuring that pulse fishing in banned throughout Europe until scientists are given the opportunity to fully explore the damage this fishing method could do to the ecosystem.  

Therefore, I have proposed an amendment to Article 8, paragraph 1 of the above-named report, calling for a complete ban on any form of electrical fishing including electro-pulse.

Secondly, I have tabled an amendment stating that if electrical-fishing including pulse fishing is still permitted on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, then from that moment it shall immediately be prohibited in all UK waters including the full EEZ.

Thirdly, due to the potential for further EU interference in the British fishing industry during any ‘transition period’, I am calling for the Common Fisheries policy to cease to apply in all UK waters (including to the full extent of the UK EEZ) from the moment that the UK leaves the European Union, including any transition period.

In my opinion, it is now time to put the national interest above party divides and show some national unity in-order to support the thousands of people struggling to survive in fishing communities up and down the UK. Therefore, I hope that you will join me in voting for these amendments which will protect both our marine environment, ecology and fishing industry.  

Yours faithfully

Mike Hookem MEP

Yorkshire & North Lincolnshire