Why Labour is taking a stand against pulse fishing

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.

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  1. For many centuries, in Europe, Man behaved as if God had said: “Use the Earth and its resources as you wish.” Forests were destroyed to give space for agriculture and build ships, and later make charcoal for industry.
    When in the late 20th century it became evident that this behavior was unsustainable, “Technology will develop solutions” claimed those who wanted to continue with business as usual. And there are those, of course, like in this case of electric pulse fishing, who want to make profit NOW and don’t care a fig about the extinction of fish species.
    I do hope the Parliament will ban this technique of fishing.

  2. 15:39
    I see the Parliament has voted for the prohibition of that mode of fishing.
    Good job, Richard! Thanks to you and your colleagues. Now.. ; you have to convince the Council…

  3. Whichever method of fishing we use in the seas has damaging consequences for the marine environment – indiscriminate fishing, noise levels and pollution to name but a few. I had not heard of pulse fishing and I am grateful to Richard Corbett for providing this information for all interested people to read.
    Personally, I think it sounds an extremely destructive and cruel way of fishing, for fish to be found to have fractured spines due to convulsion to name just 1 consequence surely should not be allowed. Also, following the China experience of seas being left resembling a desert is a significant concern. There must be a better more humane way to feed the world.
    Thanks you for the information – go for it lets get it banned.

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