Members of the European Parliament on Tuesday voted in a favor of a policy amendment to ban the use of electric pulse fishing, a controversial method that had been prohibited except for experimental use, a loophole allegedly used by the Dutch government.
By a margin of 460 in favor to 232 against with 40 in abstention, lawmakers backed the update to European Union fishing laws, which would reverse a 1998 decision to permit some use of electrical nets, which are used to stun fish so they float to the surface, making them easier to catch.
“The current state of standards is impractical, complex and rigid, so there is a need to revise the technical measures," said Spanish conservative MEP Gabriel Mato. "Everyone agreed we needed simplification. We shouldn’t reinvent the rules, but rather make them clearer and more practical to implement for fishermen and others," he added.
Green parties and environmentalist activists welcomed the vote, having argued that the technique of using electrical pulses was inhumane and posed a threat to ecosystems on the ocean floor.
Currently, this type of fishing is authorized for 5 percent of the North Sea fleet, where it is predominantly used by the Netherlands to catch flatfish such as sole.
Supporters of pulse-fishing have said the technique is less damaging to the environment than bottom trawling.
But sustainable fishing NGO Bloom lodged a complaint with the European Union accusing the Netherlands of equipping 84 North Sea fishing boats with electrified nets, rather than the 15 that would be legal under EU law.
Bloom also alleged it had recorded fishing boats contravening voltage restrictions, while the organization's president Claire Nouvian said the practice was akin to turning the seabed into a desert.
However, Europeche, an association of EU national fishing enterprises, said the arguments presented against pulse fishing were misleading.
"We are confronted with a new offensive orchestrated by the radical environmentalists in a further attempt to discredit a fishing gear, in line with a previous campaign against deep sea bottom trawling. We reiterate that there are no good or bad fishing gears, it all depends on their use," said the association's president, Javier Garat, in a statement.
According to data from the European Commission, out of 85,000 active fishing boats, only 87 use pulse technology; 84 in the Netherlands, three in Belgium.
The Parliament vote means the legislation passes to the European Council for further scrutiny.