“Europe slaughtering sea life in the name of science”

| February 11, 2015
Cod backbone

Between 50 and 70% of large cod that come close to a passing electrode at realistic field strengths suffer fractured vertebrae. Photograph: Wageningen UR

Most people are rightly outraged by the deception of Japan through their whaling for “scientific purposes”. But, according to Guardian journalist George Monbiot, the same trick – the mass slaughter of the creatures of the sea under the guise of “scientific research” – is now being deployed under our noses. Our own government, alongside the EC and other member states, is perpetrating this duplicity.

Fishing in Europe with poisons, explosives and electricity is banned. But, it seems the commission has gradually been rescinding the ban on electricity. It began with one or two boats, then in 2010, after lobbying by the Dutch Goverment, 5% of the their trawler fleet was allowed to use this technique. In 2012 the proportion was raised to 10% and now 85 Dutch supertrawlers have been equipped with electric pulse gear, at a cost of around £300,000 per ship.

Pulse trawling, as the technique is known, uses electricity to flush flatfish or shrimp out of the sediments in which they hide. The electric shock makes them convulse and flip upwards, into the net. Electric fishing can greatly increase the catch of these species.

The industry and the Dutch and British governments claim that this technique is less damaging than conventional beam trawling but this is hardly a high bar. Beam trawling is a perfectly designed system for maximum environmental destruction. It rips up not just the life on the surface of the seabed, but also, through the use of “tickler chains”, the underlying sediments.

So it is certainly conceivable that pulse trawling causes less damage than the full-spectrum ecocide delivered by beam trawling but, argues Monbiot, unfortunately we have, at present, no way of knowing.

There has so far been no serious effort to discover what the impacts of repeated electric shocks might be on any of the animal communities of the sea: those that live in the open water, on the seabed or under it. The tiny amount of research conducted so far has involved just a few species in fish tanks and, as far as I can discover, just one vague, poorly-designed and inconclusive study at sea.

Yet these 97 ships (85 Dutch, 12 “British”) have been licensed to operate across the entire southern North Sea: in other words, from Kent to Schleswig-Holstein, Edinburgh to Jutland.

Outrageously, this includes the region’s Special Area of Conservation: Dogger Bank. Special Areas of Conservation are supposed to confer the highest level of protection of any European wildlife sites. Thanks to a veto by the Dutch government, every part of the Dogger Bank and its remarkable habitats remains open to beam trawling – and now electric fishing – and this area is ripped up on a daily basis.

Objections by groups such as the Marine Conservation Society, which have begged the government and the commission to ensure that protected sites are actually, er, protected, have simply been brushed aside.

So what possible justification does the commission give for permitting this mass deployment of an untested technology? Oh yes. It’s a “trial” for the purpose of “scientific research”. The commission tells me that the trial is “envisaged to last for five years.”

The Dutch government explains that this “research programme” will study “the selectivity of the pulse trawl and the environmental benefits of leaving the seabed undamaged”.

Given that the experimental area extends to the whole of the southern North Sea, what kind of an experiment is this? What’s the hypothesis? What’s the methodology? Where’s the control?

How can the Government license such techniques in the absence of any real knowledge about their environmental impacts…especially in so called protected areas. Can we really afford to allow such practices without peer reviewed science to back it up. Surely the burden of proof should be on proving the a technique IS good for the environment rather than allowing it until AFTER evidence is found that it is detrimental to the environment and millions of pounds have been spent on equipment!

For the full Guardian article pleas click here.

Category: EU Government News

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