This week, the European Parliament will be voting on a proposal which could lift the current strict limits on electric pulse fishing, and allow many more vessels to adopt the practice. Labour MEPs will oppose this proposal and support a ban on this practice.
Pulse fishing originated as an alternative to traditional beam trawling, which drags a heavy metal beam behind the boat, ploughing through the seabed, and is generally considered one of the most destructive forms of fishing on the bottom of the sea. Pulse fishing advocates claim that it is less destructive and talk of its lower fuel consumption, its reduction of bycatch (other species caught ‘accidentally’) by 50%, and its less negative (though still damaging) effect on the seabed compared to beam trawling. However, these benefits, if true, may not balance other negative consequences.
Despite the EU having allowed 5% of fleets to use pulse fishing on an experimental basis, there is still no compelling evidence that it is better in its overall ecological impact. In fact, of the thirteen articles about pulse fishing which have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, only three have dealt with the impacts on marine life, and their findings are not positive.
These studies have highlighted some alarming consequences on marine life. Over half of large cod caught using pulse fishing had fractured spines due to the convulsion, as well as internal haemorrhaging. Whilst smaller organisms feel less of a shock from the electricity, there is not yet significant research into the cumulative effect of electric pulses on smaller species welfare, nor on its effects on larvae. Moreover, it is thought that the use of the technique may cause invertebrates to have a weaker immune system.
But we don’t have to read scientific journals to learn about the negative impact of pulse fishing; we just need to listen to our fishers.
Those who operate in waters where pulse fishing is allowed have seen their catch reduced year on year, and now describe these areas of the seas as a ‘desert’. Indeed, pulse fishing was banned in China in 2000, being seen as ‘too efficient’, as well as damaging the environment.
The elected European Parliament will have a lively debate on whether to give the go-ahead to lifting the current restriction on pulse fishing. It may even vote to ban the practice entirely in European waters, stopping a practice that many feel harms the environment and threatens our stocks, and with it the long term livelihood of our fishing industry.