The day Europe lost

Fishing trawlers prepare to set sail.

The day Europe lost


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The European Parliament voted to ban electric pulse trawling technology. Europe looses when protectionism and fakenews block innovative and environment friendly progress, writes MEP Annie Schreijer-Pierik.

It should have been a formality in the European Parliament this month: the approval of electric pulse technology in fisheries.

These small electrical pulses bring fish to the net, protects the seabed, and prevents marine species to be caught unintentionally. Moreover, fishermen save 50% of the fuel compared to the old method of dragging chains across the bottom of the sea. More and more fishermen dared to invest €200,000 to €400,000 per ship with this technology in the 10 years that the European Commission allowed testing. Encouraged by environmental NGO’s, the Dutch government requested and received an increased number of test-licenses from Brussels.

When the European Union announced that it was to decide on pulse trawling technology and other technological measures for fishing. The technology would most likely be approved definitively. Usually, the European Parliament supports environmental improvements.  As a shadow-rapporteur for Technological Measures in the fishing industry, I gained support for this technology from the European Parliament committees for Fisheries and for Environment. In these talks, we agreed on subsidies for renovation of boats of small fishermen.

But then the tide turned. A French anti-fisheries organization, together with French small fishermen, saw an opportunity to take the wind out of the sails of their mostly Dutch colleagues with pulse technology.

They falsely pretended that the electric pulse trawling technology is horrible. The groups tried to prove that the fish were being electrocuted and as if Dutch ships were emptying the French coast.

These claims are all incorrect, according to several scientific studies. It is clear that all fishermen are limited by the quota of EU-Members States, so there is no ‘overfishing’.

However, the images remained in the minds of many MEP´s outside my EPP group in the European Parliament and arguments lost out to emotions.  A strange alliance of opponents has chosen to destroy an environmentally friendly technology. It is bizarre for fishermen to see their investments of close to €30 million, done in good faith in government policies, made almost worthless. 

In my 30 years in politics, I have never had the experienced that a small group of activists could burn through a good plan just like that at the last minute. It is in direct opposition to all science,fishing specialists, and the European Commission!

This is a major step back.

Of course, I understand some of the emotions of the opponents that may be behind their actions. The Dutch governments and fisherman were probably too keen on using this technology, supplying far more boats with the electric pulse trawling technology than other countries. Although Brussels allowed the permits for this, I understand the jealousy abroad.

The Netherlands is often at the forefront of environmental innovation in agriculture and fisheries. Many Dutch bluntly think others will follow them on this path. But it has suddenly become clear it does not work that way. Now it is up to rapporteur MEP Gabriel Mato of Spain to find a good compromise with the Council. So far the EU countries seemed willing to continue experiments with maximum 5 % of the appropriate ships.

I strongly plea to let arguments win over emotions again. To let the European spirit of cooperation win again. To let the environment win again. The lesson for the Dutch government and Dutch fishing organisations is that they should be more humble.The opponents should realise they are making Europe sending a very wrong signal. Blocking pulse technology is a blow for everyone working on innovation.

What use would it be to introduce a new technique if the ones lagging behind can block it? What message does this bring to e.g. farmers that are trying to meet EU environment standards?

Particularly worrisome is that one big Member State would be able to marginalise a smaller Member State that is on the forefront of some development. That is not the European way of doing things.

The EU is built on cross-border cooperation, on win-win situations. The day the European Parliament voted against pulse fishing is therefore a turning point in Europe.

It is a day that Europe lost.

My fear is that the voting has enlarged the breeding ground for Euro sceptics. It is playing supporters of a “Nexit” into their hands. Unfortunately, that was already apparent from the many reactions on social media I saw after the vote in the European Parliament.

I hope that the opponents of the electric pulse trawling fishing realise their heavy responsibility.

In the mean time, we keep working on a compromise to save this innovative pulse technology somehow. We should not throw Europe nor this technology overboard.

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