Dutch Lose Bid to Overturn Pulse Fishing Ban

The decision comes as the industry is facing major challenges following Brexit, which took access to some British waters away from Dutch fishers. 

(Image by Hans Kemperman from Pixabay via Courthouse News)

LUXEMBOURG (CN) — Upholding a European Union-wide ban on pulse fishing Thursday, the bloc’s highest court dealt a major blow Thursday to a common fishing practice in the Netherlands where fish are dislodged from their seabeds and then scooped into nets via electrodes that cause muscle spasms.

“In the field of fisheries, the EU legislature enjoys a wide discretion,” a panel of judges from the European Court of Justice wrote. The decision is unsigned and, so far, not available in English. 

In April 2019, the EU parliament passed a ban on fishing using “electric currents, poisons, pneumatic hammers or explosives” following complaints from environmental groups about the nearly complete wipeout of fishing stocks in areas of the North Sea where this practice is used. 

The Netherlands brought a complaint against the legislation, arguing the method is better for the environment as it requires boats to use less fuel and does less damage to seabeds. “The decision-making in Europe to ban pulse fishing is based on emotional smear campaigns and not on the best available scientific advice,” fishing organization VisNed said in a statement. 

But the court noted Thursday that the EU Parliament has a broad mandate to regulate the fishing industry, thus the legislation could be overturned only if the Legislature made a manifest error or misused its powers or manifestly exceeded the limits of its discretion. According to the ruling, the pulse-fishing ban does not meet those thresholds. “None of the arguments actually put forward in support of the first complaint show that the contested technical measures are manifestly inappropriate,” the First Chamber wrote. 

The Netherlands argued that the parliament had ignored a recommendation from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, the leading scientific organization on marine species in the Atlantic Ocean, which said to allow the practice. The council found that pulse fishing was better for the environment and the sea beds as compared with traditional beam fishing, where trawling nets are attached to both sides of boats that drag along the seafloor to catch bottom-feeding fish. 

“It follows … that it cannot be inferred … that the EU legislature, as claimed by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is obliged to make its legislative choices … based solely on available scientific and technical advice,” the five-judge panel found, ultimately deciding the parliament can make decisions based on information beyond scientific reports. 

More than 80 Dutch-flagged ships had equipped themselves to adapt to pulse fishing when it was first developed. Accounting for around 15% of the entire Dutch fleet, VisNed says the ban will drive family-owned businesses out of the industry, which has been hard hit by Brexit. Fishing was a major negotiating point when the United Kingdom left the European Union at the end of last year and under current arrangements, EU boats are limited in what they can catch in British waters. 

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