EU Votes To Ban Controversial Electric Pulse Fishing

The vote would ban the use of electric pulse fishing, but little is known about its long-term effects on marine ecosystems. Split Second Shock/Shutterstock. 

Madison Dapcevich 18 Jan 2018, 11:40

In a contentious vote, the European Union has decided to ban the use of electric pulse trawling.

Tuesday's vote incorporates new rules on how, where, and when fish can be caught and also moves to simplify the more than 30 fishing regulations currently in place. This will include updating common measures on fishing gear, fishing methods, and the minimum size of fish that may be caught, as well as stopping or restricting fishing in certain areas, or during certain time periods.

“The current state of standards is impractical, complex and rigid, so there is a need to revise the technical measures,” said MEP Gabriel Mato in a statement. “Everyone agreed we needed simplification. We shouldn’t reinvent the rules, but rather make them clearer and more practical to implement.”

An additional amendment to ban pulsed electric current fishing comes after disagreements about its effectiveness and impact on the environment.

Conservationists say it causes unnecessary harm to the ocean floor, while supporters say it causes less disturbance to the seafloor and catches fewer nontargeted species as bycatch.

The traditional method of trawling, known as beam trawling, works by keeping nets open by beams mounted at each end of the vessel. Chains are attached to the nets and dragged along the seafloor. Disturbed by the trawl, fish swim into the oncoming net.

A pulse trawler, on the other hand, uses bursts of electricity to shock flatfish out of the sediment and into the nets. Supporters say the pulses churn up less of the seafloor, impacting benthic species less and reducing bycatch. Fishermen contend that the lighter load means vessels are more fuel efficient.  

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) found little evidence that electrical currents cause serious harm. A 2017 study found the only known irreversible harm is done to large cod and whiting – 10 percent of which suffer vertebral fractures and hemorrhages when their muscles over-contract from the shock.

However, some organizations and campaign groups argue very little serious research has been carried out to investigate the long-term effects of electrical fishing and its impact on the wider marine environment.

“We know enough to continue with pulse trawling in the present context,” said Adriaan Rijnsdorp, a fisheries biologist at Wageningen Marine Research and a co-chair of the ICES working group, told Science Mag. He added that a decision should wait until 2019 when an EU-funded four-year study assessing the consequences of pulse trawling on the sole industry has concluded. 

Parliament has authorized Fisheries Committee MEPs to begin discussions with the Council on legislation. Any decision will have to be agreed upon by the European Parliament, Commission, and member states.

[H/T: Science Mag

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