EU watchdog urged to probe Commission over use of "pulse fishing"

EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has been urged to investigate the European Commission’s alleged support of “illegal” pulse fishing.

Pulse fishing is a technique where trawlers use nets that generate an electric current. It has been used to drive fish up out of the seabed and into the nets.

BLOOM, an NGO, started investigating electric fishing because it says it seemed a bad idea to use electricity to catch fish.

In an interview with this site, Claire Nouvian, Founder & Board Chair, BLOOM, said, "Our research has confirmed that it was indeed a harmful thing to do to electrocute marine life.

"This finding was “expected” you might say.

"What was unexpected, is everything else we’ve found along the way.

"Because electric fishing is so intuitively harmful, we’ve discovered that authorizing it and then allowing its widespread expansion took determination and will.

"It took some talent of dissimulation, some creativity to come up with legal tricks and to conceal evidence.

"The fact that Europe is the only place on Earth that formally authorizes electric fishing is NOT serendipitous.

"It is, on the contrary, the result of an unspeakable agenda, to make way for the most destructive fishing practices and to completely let down, the best fishing jobs.

"Our campaign against electric fishing became a journey through European institutions. 

"We’ve discovered that the authorization of electric fishing, a prohibited fishing method had been done AGAINST the explicit advice of scientists.

"We’ve discovered that most exemptions did not respect the legal framework (adopted in dubious circumstances) and that 70 licenses out of 84 today were illegal.

"We’ve unveiled that so-called “scientific fishing” was as much a fraud as “scientific whaling” which is used as a pretext to conduct commercial activities.

"We’ve shown that institutional opacity protected alarming financial information.

"We’ve broken that “wall of opaqueness” and have shown that despite fishing industry claims, SUBSTANTIAL amounts of public money had been given for the conversion of trawlers to electricity.

"That money could have served to convert a destructive and nearly bankrupt Dutch fleet of beam trawlers to more sustainable fishing methods.

"Our revelations have shed new light on how unsustainable and socially, ecologically harmful electric fishing was. Our data have convinced the Parliament to vote in favour of a full prohibition on the use of electricity in January 2018.

"Yet, what has happened since?

"The Parliament is NOT defending the mandate during Trilogue negotiations.

"And the Council and Commission are acting as though nothing had been brought to their attention.

"Just like the Titanic, they have set off on a trajectory and although it’s en route to collapse, it will not change its course.  

"We filed our first complaint about illegal electric licenses to the European Commission in Oct. 2017. 

"I want to take a step back and remind everyone that in 1998, electric fishing was prohibited in the EU at the same time as fishing with explosives or poison, for all the good, obvious, common sense reasons.

"In 2006 fishing with electricity became authorized for all the wrong reasons: out of pressure by interest groups and a single Member State.

"By caving in to private interests, the European Commission has thus created a gigantic mess. This is a perfect example of how wrongdoing can never fix itself. It just keeps adding layer after layer. This is precisely the reason why we need systemic institutional transparency.

"I want to personally thank the MEPs present here today who are resisting with courage the incredible pressure by political groups because YES the Parliament has voted but the “dirty deals” are taking over the Parliament’s clear mandate.

"Younous Omarjee and Yannick Jadot have been acting like whistleblowers from the inside. They have helped shed light on utterly unacceptable processes.

"It is expected in the public opinion that industrial lobbies would act cynically and unethically to defend their stakes. It’s regrettable but the Dutch fishing industry has been iconic in this regard, mocking, threatening, concealing and lying, day after day, adding insult to injury on a daily basis.

"What is NOT expected and should NOT be tolerated is that European institutions or Parliamentarians give legislative echo to such destructive practices. The destruction we are talking about here is the destruction of marine ecosystems, the destruction of jobs and coastal economic balances, but not only: industrial lobbies have infiltrated institutions with such success that we are now faced with morally corrupt decision making along the institutional chain. 

"Lobbies are also destroying our democracy and the only way to limit their negative force is to oppose transparency, ethics and integrity. 

"We are formally calling on the European ombudsman and the Commission’s anti-fraud office OLAF to investigate the cases we brought to their attention without delay.

"We will never let go of our fight against the electrocution of marine life. Coastal fishers have been let down by their official representation bodies who would rather echo industrial stakes, and the ocean has no voice if our coalition of actors stops fighting for its rights.

"We will never tolerate that public policies are influenced by the worst actors for the worst reasons and we call on the European Ombudsman and the Anti-Fraud office to defend the rights of European citizens.

The European Ombudsman and the Anti-Fraud office represent our last resort."

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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