By: Samuel Stone Date posted: 26 January 2018 Marine Conservation Society
The use of electricity in the marine environment is currently banned under EU technical regulations, but a series of derogations for scientific and data collection purposes have made it possible for (primarily) the Dutch to roll out the electric pulse fishing method on a large scale over the last decade. The use of electricity in the water has actually been used for decades to scientifically sample fish populations, and some experimental use in fish trawls started in the 1960s. It wasn’t until the fuel crisis of the 1970s that commercial electro trawling started to gain real traction as a means to reduce fuel consumption – especially in the fuel intensive beam trawl fisheries in the North Sea. Far exceeding any normal scientific trial, there are presently about 90 large (over 24m) modified beam trawl vessels that are using electricity to shock fish from the seabed instead of using conventional heavy tickler chains and chain mats.
Whilst pulse trawling can reduce fuel consumption (by about half), physical contact with the seafloor and some unwanted catches, it presents a whole suite of new environmental and welfare issues that need to be better researched and understood before electricity can be safely introduced on a large scale to the marine environment.
On Tuesday 16th January, the EU Parliament voted to maintain a ban on catching or harvesting marine species using electric currents. The outcome was unexpected as amendments to the wider regulation (Regulation on the conservation of fishery resources and protection of marine ecosystems through technical measures) proposed by the European Commission to legalise the controversial method had been largely supported in a previous vote by the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries (PECH). Whilst the outcome is surprising, it’s far from the end of the story, as the proposal will now need to be negotiated and agreed with the EU Council and EU Commission before being approved and passed into law.