Save Our Soles – FFL Back An End To Pulse Fishing

Fishing for Leave look forward to working with a range of fishermen’s organizations and others to see Electric Pulse fishing stopped.

Pulse fishing is a controversial form of beam trawling that trails electrodes along the seabed to send electric pulses through the sediment to capture the fish.

However, the practice – already banned in China – has been blamed by British fishers of damaging non-target fish stocks; wiping out gastropods; damaging the seabed ecosystem and breaking the backs of fish.

In 2006, the Dutch fishing fleet was granted a derogation and experimental EU licence to use the controversial electric pulse fishing method to beam trawl British waters in the southern North Sea – despite an EU ban on fishing methods using explosives, poisons and electricity.


In 1998, Article 31 of (EC) Regulation No. 850/98 Prohibited the use of destructive gears such as electric fishing: “The Catching of marine organisms using methods incorporating the use of explosives, poisonous or stupefying substances or electric current shall be prohibited“.

However, on 5 December 2006, the European Commission proposed1 “In the light of advice from STECF“, to allow “By way of derogation from Article 31(1) of Regulation (EC) No 850/98 fishing with beam trawl using electrical pulse current (…) in ICES zones IVc and IVb south under certain conditions“.

Annex III of the Commission proposal establishes that “no more than 5% of the beam trawler fleet by Member State shall be allowed to use the electric pulse trawl“.

The Commission proposal was swiftly adopted by Council, on 21 December 2006 and as a result, a prohibited, destructive fishing gear was deployed on a wide scale by the Dutch Fishing Industry, well beyond the specified regulatory threshold.

Under the terms of the EU license, no more than 5% of the Dutch beam trawling fleet should have been converted to pulse fishing. However, this has been ignored and there are now around over 100 electric pulse trawlers from the EU, along with 12 registered in the United Kingdom under “Flagship” control, ope­rating in the southern North Sea- mainly in British waters.

In 2015, the international scientific body ICES acknowledged;
“The issuing of 84 licences to carry out further scientific data collection is not in the spirit of the previous advice and that such a level of expansion is not justified from a scientific perspective. This is well in excess of the 5% limit included in the current legislation. At this level this is essentially permitting a commercial fishery under the guise of scientific research”.

Sanctioned Against Scientific Advice

Criminally, to make matters worse, the EU Commission sanctioned pulse fishing against its own rules and scientific advice.

Just a month before the Commission released its proposals, a report from the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), dated 6‐10 November 2006 , explicitly advised the European Commission against sanctioning pulse fishing:

Taking into account in particular the unknown effect of pulse trawl fisheries on non-target species and the potential impact on vertebrates and invertebrate species, STECF concludes that although the development of this technology should not be halted, there are a number of issues that need to be resolved before any derogation can be granted“.

The European Commission’s decision to ignore its own committee of experts and to revoke the ban on electric fishing to satisfy the restricted interest of the Dutch fishing industry is a shocking violation of the Code of Conduct for Commissioners, which states that;

The Members of the Commission must indeed discharge their duties in the general interest of the Union, without seeking nor taking instructions from any government or from any other body”.

After lecturing on high about following scientific advise whilst using this as an excuse to decimate the British fishing industry through measures to counteract the ineptitude and failure of the EUs Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) the EU Commission decided to blatantly ignore advice to keep the Dutch industry afloat.

Not content with taking 60% of the fish in UK waters as British coastal communities went to the wall, several million euros of public money have been al­located to allow the above scandal to happen to keep inefficient EU vessels plundering British waters with electric pulse trawls.

Done with the complicity of EU and British authorities whilst fishermen across the southern North Sea observe that pulse fishing is smashing the environment and British inshore fishermen and coastal communities have had to suffer from an arbitrary decision by the EU that violates its own science, rules and precautionary approach.

‘Tasering’ the Environment

The electric current used is a “pulsed bipolar current” which is identical to that used by a Taser. This type of current causes such violent, uncontrolled convulsions that some fish’s backs break under the effect of the electric shock: 50 to 70% of large cods are left with spinal fractures and internal bleeding after the shock.

This is just the tip of the ice­berg; little to nothing is known about the effect of the electric current on eggs, juvenile growth, fish reproduction, plankton and the overall marine environment and habitat.

The British public wouldn’t accept tasering sheep, so we don’t see why it’s acceptable to taser fish.

Since the introduction of pulse fishing fishermen throughout England, France and Belgium have seen a steep decline in fish numbers and watched areas of the seabed where pulsing is being used become “a lifeless desert.”

Despite these reports, little scientific research has been conducted, except by the Dutch who have a vested interest in promoting pulse as a viable fishing method.

There is now a concerted effort taking shape as ever more organisations speak out against this criminality on the marine environment with fishermen’s organisations and select eNGOS such as Bloom lobbying the Commission.

British fishermen question where other environmental NGOs are- who they highlight are peculiarly quiet on this issue. Fishermen question why the likes of WWF, Greenpeace, PEW foundation, EDF and Marine Conservation Society having raised little objection to this method of fishing.

Many fishermen are infuriated that despite little proof that Pulse fishing is not responsible for the ecological problems found in the areas it is used it is allowed to continue under the pretext of scientific “research” to authorize the deployment of a fishing method against the advice of scientists.

If the Conservative government and Mr Gove wants to prove a commitment to environmentally and economically decent post-Brexit fishing policy, so we can have a healthy environment and coastal communities for generations to come, they should ban pulse fishing until it is proved not to be responsible for the destruction witnessed in the areas pulsed.