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Assessment clarifies sustainability challenges for pulse trawl fisheries

Today Acoura Marine publishes the MSC public comment draft report (PCDR)* for the Netherlands sole and plaice pulse fishery. The Cooperative Fisheries Organisation of the Netherlands (CVO) is sharing this draft report with all stakeholders, in order to improve understanding of pulse fishing through open discussion and clear, independently evaluated facts.

The MSC Fisheries Standard is based on three principles, focused on:

1) Healthy target stocks;
2) Minimum ecosystem impacts; and
3) Effective fishery management.

In order to obtain MSC certification, every principle must score, on average, a minimum of 80 points out of 100. The draft report indicates that the fishery meets the requirements, on average, for principles 1 and 3. However, the fishery falls short on meeting principle 2, with an average score of 77 points. The fishery is therefore not recommended for certification.

In addition to limitations in understanding the impacts of the pulse fishery on ecosystems, the report highlights challenges in the policy framework of the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), and on control and enforcement. The CVO and the Dutch government are already working to address these issues.

Ecosystem impacts

Acoura Marine observed that the physical impacts of pulse fishing on the seabed are lower than those of conventional beam trawl fishing. Their draft report also highlights that the pulse fishery consumes less fuel. However, the draft assessment concludes that there is currently insufficient knowledge of the impacts of electric pulses on seabed ecosystems to state with certainty that pulse fishing does not have any significant impacts. The report notes that, while the evidence available to date does not indicate significant impacts, additional research, and a longer time series of data, are deemed necessary. These challenges are related to the fact that pulse fishing is a new technique and has been operational only for a short time. The CVO says that, in policy development, new fishery methods are being closely scrutinized due to increased societal attention. They claim this makes the introduction of a new gear now more challenging than several decades ago.

The knowledge gaps highlighted in the assessment are already being addressed by new research and catch records. For example, a four-year research programme into the pulse fishery by Wageningen Marine Research (formerly known as IMARES) started in early 2016 and is studying the effects of electric pulses on a wide group of organisms, on the functioning of the seabed ecosystem in the long and short term, on fishery stocks, and on the bycatch. The results of this research will be brought together into an umbrella assessment of the impact of pulse fishery on the North Sea ecosystem as a whole. The results are expected to be published in 2019. At the same time, an increasingly detailed picture of the fishery distribution, landings and interactions with “Endangered, Threatened or Protected” (ETP) species is being built up.

Control and enforcement

The MSC assessment points to the need to adopt a clear enforcement protocol, which had not been completed at the time of the assessment. The fishery’s management authorities have since codified new requirements to address this issue. These requirements have been agreed by the Ministry, Control and Enforcement agency, industry and suppliers and will be implemented as soon as possible. In addition, they decided to obtain an independent NEN-certification for pulse, securing the future requirements with which all pulse vessels (modules and conductors) must comply. This allows the Control & Enforcement agency to verify whether the voltages used during fishing have been correctly implemented, and that they are applied in accordance with the most recent scientific insights.

Permanent permission for pulse fishery

The statutory status of all electric fishing in the CFP is yet to be adopted on a permanent basis. On the basis of the existing research, the European Commission has proposed to the Council and the European Parliament that this fishing method should be permitted formally and definitively. A final decision, involving all relevant EU institutions, is still to be made.  Clarity on the status in the CFP will provide certainty for the fishermen, but is also required for a positive result in an MSC assessment.

Kees van Beveren, Chairman of the CVO said: “In order to fulfil the MSC assessment of the innovative pulse fisheries, more data need to be collected, and the regulatory framework needs to be finalised. This is understandable because the pulse fishing gear is a novel technique. Now that the evidence and management needs have been confirmed, the research programme is continued full steam. We look forward confidently to a new MSC assessment in future.”

Hans Nieuwenhuis, Program Director for MSC Benelux said: “The MSC appreciates the decision of the fishery to let the facts speak for themselves, even though in this case the overall draft assessment did not lead to a recommendation for certification. Assessment to the MSC Fisheries Standard provides a clear, independent analysis of the sustainability of a fishery. We welcome the commitment shown by the fishery to tackle the issues raised in this assessment. Once the issues highlighted in this assessment have been addressed, we encourage them to re-enter MSC assessment to verify sustainability to globally recognised base practice.”  

* What is a Public Comment Draft Report?

Formally speaking, the report published today is a draft. During the continuation of the certification procedure, if there had been a recommendation for certification, there would now be a public comment round, following which the draft would become a final report. It means that the current draft report has not been scrutinized yet by the MSC, nor by stakeholders.

Find out more about pulse fishing >  

If you have questions about the pulse trawl fishery, please contact: , Chairman of CVO. Tel: +31-6-50419141