Electric stimulation was used in the North Sea beam trawl fishery for common sole to reduce its environmental impact. Because electrical stimulation may cause internal injuries in fish, a laboratory experiment was conducted to study the effect of pulse exposure on lesser sandeel (Ammodytes tobianus) and greater sandeel (Hyperoplus lanceolatus), important mid-trophic species in the North Sea ecosystem. We exposed 244 sandeels between two electrodes to a pulsed bipolar current for 2 s in an experimental cage with 5 cm sediment; 221 control fish were
handled similarly but not exposed. The occurrence of spinal injuries and internal haemorrhages were scored using X-radiography and dissection. None of the sandeels exposed to a field strength of up to 600 V m–1 showed spinal injury or haemorrhage. Equal numbers of minor spinal abnormalities were found in exposed and control fish. In the absence of spinal injuries, we estimated by bootstrapping the field strength below which spinal injuries are unlikely to occur, i.e. the lower limit threshold, and the corresponding limit dose–response relationship between field strength and injury probability. We conclude that it is unlikely that pulse trawl fishery will have an ecologically significant adverse effect on the population abundance of sandeels, because of the low probabilities of exposure and injury.