China, the USA, Australia... even Brazil: many of the world’s countries have banned electric pulse fishing. Europe did too, but is subject to derogations for commercial purposes. Relais & Châteaux is committed to working with the Bloom association to ban it permanently in Europe.
Electric pulse fishing is a form of fishing that targets species of fish that live on the seabed, such as sole and plaice. How does it work? The trawling nets are fitted with electrodes that emit electric pulses into the seabed. “Stunned” in this way, the fish that are then easier to catch in the nets. An indiscriminate technique, just like its cousin beam trawling, it raises questions about the volume of by-catches, as well as their survival rate when these are thrown back into the sea. Furthermore, because the trawler nets used in electric pulse fishing are lighter than traditional beam trawling equipment, they can also be used in coastal waters which are often also breeding grounds or nurseries.
Although there are no studies measuring its impact – and indeed this is part of the problem – electric pulse fishing (which uses the same kind of electric pulses as Tasers), has real effects on the ecosystem in which it is used: on juveniles, eggs, larvae, plankton, and non-target species. Unfortunately, assessing the damage is left to artisan fishermen. The drastic fall in catches is a threat to these small-scale fishermen (whose profession is labor-intensive, as opposed to the resource intensive industrial fishing), and the expertise that comes with them.
In a word, electric pulse fishing is a striking symbol of the race for increasingly sophisticated technology that is turning our oceans (and our ports) into deserts. It was also in order to conserve “fishery resources through technical measures for the protection of juveniles of marine organisms” that the European Union banned the practice in 1998.
And yet, an exemptions system was implemented in 2006, against the judgment of the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF). Initially awarded on an annual basis, the exemptions became permanent in 2015, set at 5% of the beam trawling fleet. In parallel, the Dutch government obtained additional licenses, some under the pretext of research, and others for no justifiable reason. Today, the Netherlands has 84 electric pulse fishing licenses, covering 30% of the country’s beam trawling fleet.
Millions of euros in State subsidies have helped equip these boats (€3.8m in European subsidies since 2015 alone). According to a Dutch journalist who obtained access to the records, fewer than half of them have been involved in research. Scientists, fishermen, and representatives of the Dutch government ultimately admitted that commercial reasons lay behind the decision to refit the Dutch fleet for electric pulse fishing. According to IMARES, the Dutch Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies, sole caught through electric pulse fishing in 2014 accounted for 92% of sole caught by Dutch trawlers.
Having already issued a warning on deep sea trawling, BLOOM is actively fighting to ban electric pulse fishing. Shortly after the encouraging vote in the European Parliament in January, President Macron stated that he was not in favor of electric pulse fishing. Given France’s influence within the European Union, the tone of the trilogue negotiations is surprising. BLOOM has therefore launched a new petition demanding that Mr Macron turns words into deeds. The chefs of Relais & Châteaux are reaffirming their support for BLOOM, and their strident opposition to electric pulse fishing, which destroys ecosystems, jobs, and traditional expertise.