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Europe should learn from the pulse ban to make fisheries innovation possible

Published on
May 4, 2020

To ensure that innovations towards sustainable fisheries are possible in the future Europe should draw lessons from the pulse-trawl debacle. That is the message from Wageningen researcher Marloes Kraan and colleagues in a recent paper published in Marine Policy.

The challenge of sustainably using the ocean’s resources is only getting larger. In addition to securing enough food production, politicians must also balance parallel goals of other sectors like wind energy and shipping, while at the same time considering the effects of climate change. How can decisions over ocean resource use be made when there are so many scientific uncertainties and opposing interests?

Challenges politicians face

The pulse trawl fishery is an interesting case because it highlights the challenges politicians face.

  1. First, it shows that while innovations often start small, they need broad support to be scaled up. In the European fishery sector, which is centrally organised from Brussels, this means including a wide range of relevant interest groups.
  2. Second, scientific evidence on the effect of a new fishing technique remain important. But scientific facts alone will not ensure an innovation will be taken up. It is even possible that science itself becomes a factor in further polarising the debate. That, according to Kraan and colleagues, is exactly what happened with the pulse trawl.

Article written by La Manach from 2019

In 2019 an article was published by the journal Marine Policy entitled ‘Public subsidies have supported the development of electric trawling in Europe’, written by Frédéric Le Manach and colleagues. Three of the four authors work with Bloom, a French NGO that ran a successful campaign in the lead up to the European Union’s ban on the pulse trawl.

The article made far reaching claims about the subsidies provided to the pulse-trawl fishery and the credibility of the research used in the development of the fishing gear.

Roles of authors not clear in the article

Kraan and her colleagues refute these claims in their paper as scientifically flawed. "There is nothing wrong with researchers working at an NGO and writing a scientific article, if the boundary between their different roles remains clear and they critically reflect on their own scientific analysis, interpretation and communication. This was unfortunately not the case in this article", according to Kraan.

Scientific knowledge in political decisions

"If we want to avoid to conflicts over innovations like the pulse trawl in the future, it’s important to explore how processes of co-creation between the fishing industry, policy makers, NGOs supported by science can be given clearer shape at the European level", says Simon Bush, co-author and professor of Environmental Policy at Wageningen University and Research.

How the EU will address and organise innovation in the fisheries sector in the future remains a central question. How do we want fisheries to look like in the future? What role will scientific knowledge play in political decisions?
Professor Simon Bush

"These are key societal questions that need input from different actors and interest groups. It is the job of the EU to think about how to best design such a process".