A Taser for Soles

14 Jun 2012

In 1868, a British patent was issued for an electric harpoon for whaling.

In 1931, the magazine Popular Science presented a technique, tried by the Australian State Fishery Station, of sending electric currents into the ocean shocking all nearby fish, bringing them to the surface where they are picked up by nets.

In 1985 Ifremer (1) recommended carrying out research and exchanging information on electric-fishing techniques.

In 1998, afraid of the impacts of “unconventional fishing methods” and catch efficiency on stocks the European Union prohibited “using methods incorporating the use of explosives, poisonous or stupefying substances or electric current(s)”. However, since 2004 clandestine fishing has been observed in Scotland and 15 years ago the use of electricity was authorised for tuna and basking sharks in certain zones of the Baltic.

In China, in its heyday over 3,500 vessels were equipped with electrical beam trawlers. As a result of damage to juvenile shrimps, benthic species and difficulties to regulate it was banned in 2001. In fact fishermen would set off electric volts above the authorised limit. Today illegal electro-fishing continues and is one of the direct causes of the cetacean the Baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) extinction. Electro-fishing is thought to be the cause of 32 vulnerable (Yangtze) Finless Porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis) deaths in March and April 2012.

In 2006, the EU took a step backwards by making an exception for electric trawling in the North Sea. The derogation of a total ban was made under pressure from The Netherlands and manufacturers of fishing equipment. Electrical currents are projected from the trawl nets electrocuting soles and other fish buried in the sediments at the bottom of the sea. “The sole floats up like a dead leaf and the trawler simply reaps it.” (2) In fact the sole is not dead. The fish is taken by spasms and convulsions as the trawl sends waves of electricity without preference on the benthic fauna which lives and feeds at the bottom of the sea.

In 2012, 74 trawlers from The Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom fish sole with electrical currents. The waiting line to try this technique is getting longer.

Electro-fishing is said to make the fish more marketable as there are less signs of external lesions. It is also said to help preserve the benthic environment via electrocuting it rather that passing heavy chains over the habitats. However, research indicates an increased mortality rate on non-target species. Internal haemorrhages and spinal injuries have also been detected in species such as cod. In fact electro-fishing fields could impact the reproduction and growth rate of non-target species as well as the survival of embryos and larvae in spawning grounds. Unanswered questions are raised concerning the impacts of this method on the reproduction capacities of marine fauna. Elasmobranch species such as sharks and rays could also be particularly vulnerable. Following preliminary experiments scientist are worried about stress on fauna following repeated exposure.

When a pseudo innovative technical development is consequently cruel towards animals and adds to the capture torture it should be rejected and banned. The pretext of ecological arguments such as the reduction of fuel and even the protection of the oceans depths should be swept away.

(1) The French Research Institute for Exploration of the Sea
(2) News paper Le Marin La Pêche électrique fait des étincelles June 1st 2012.

Imprimer cet article Imprimer cet article