A group of Belgian fishermen held a protest on Saturday at Nieuwpoort, complaining of the increasing practice of using electricity to catch fish. The practice is becoming more common among large Dutch fisheries, fishing mainly for sole and plaice, two important catches for the Belgian fleet. Technically, the technique is forbidden in the EU, but the North Sea is excluded from the ban, if the practice is being used for research purposes.
That’s clearly not the case, the fishermen argue, since the fish are landed and sold as any other caught by more conventional means. In any case, earlier this year the Euiropean Parliament voted to close even that loophole, although the situation is not being policed.
The technique involves dragging a large net over the sea-bottom, where flat fish like sole and plaice live. The net gives off electrical pulses which do not harm the fish, but alarm them such that they leave the bottom and swim up into the net above.
Supporters of the practice claim it avoids catching smaller and unsaleable fish, which by law now have to be thrown back into the water, even though they may be injured or dead.
The Belgian fishermen claim the Dutch are competing unfairly by using an illegal technique. The number of Dutch boats equipped for pulse fishing has increased from 12 to 84. The Belgians argue that it leads to over-fishing, and it detrimental to other sea life in the area.
Another protest against the same practice was held at the same time in Boulogne sur Mer in France.