What is an electric trawl?
Electric pulse trawling is a fishing method which is used primarily for flatfish. It involves “removing” fish from the sea bed by electric pulses and then retrieving them inthe trawl.
This fishing method has various effects on the environment:
- nets scrape the seabed;
- non-targeted species are electrocuted;
- larvae, young fish and eggs are affected;
There is not enough independent scientific information on the actual impact of this fishing method but many people suspect that the electric shocks have a significant impact on fish that are not targeted because they're too small or cannot be sold. The risks of burns and broken spines, caused by electric shocks, seem to be proven and fishermen from Dunkirk and Boulogne-sur-Mer claim to have observed a drop in the number of fish they catch in areas which are used by the Dutch. Quality is also affected: burns can be observed on fish caught in this way.
Which aspects have been subject of debate?
In theory, this fishing method has been banned in Europe since 1998,but an exemption exists, allowing each country to use 5% of its fleet to study the method’s impact. In practice, only the Dutch use this method.
The European Commission suggested to expand the exemption; this led to significant mobilisations by various parties which are strongly opposed, including small-scale fisheries (Life),several fishmongers (PDF), NGOs (Bloom) and a coalition of renowned chefs, led by Christopher Coutanceau, Michelin-starred chef from La Rochelle.
They argued in favour of a precautionary approach whilst also making clear their political, rather than technical, rejection of an industry development which is considered to encourage overly intensive fishing. Another argument against the Dutch fishermen: the 5% exemption is said to have been significantly exceeded, with the country boasting a large-scale fleet, far beyond the number of boats for the scientific study that the the exemption allows.
What decisions have been taken?
After more than two years of debate, the ban on electric fishing will become a European law and will come into effect the 1st of July 2021. It will:
- massively reduce the number of trawlers which are authorised to continue electric fishing;
- enable member states to decide whether to ban electric fishing along their coasts (12 nautical miles).
On August 14th 2019,the order of the Prefect of Normandy of July 25th 2019 came into force: electric fishing is banned in French waters until the Europe-wide ban in 2021.