Electric pulse trawling vs beam trawling

fish, trawl

Is fishing with electricity less or more destructive than digging up the seabed with beam trawlers?  A recent article at The Conversation discusses the environmental concerns surrounding this topic, which follows the recent EU ban on electric pulse fishing.

While many people may be interested in the sustainability and welfare of the fish they eat, or the health of the environment, fewer probably worry about the effect that trawl fishing – which accounts for 20% of landings – has on the ocean.

For a long time researchers and the industry have been trying to improve trawl fishing practices.

Things have moved on from practices such as beam trawling – where a large net is dragged across the ocean floor – to potentially less invasive and newer methods like electric pulse trawling. This sees electrical pulses being sent into the seawater to flush out bottom-dwelling fish like plaice and sole, causing them to swim into the path of trawl nets.

Beam trawls have been the focus of environmental concern for decades, as it causes a substantial reduction in the abundance of animals living on the seabed. These effects can be long lasting if the fishing occurs in areas which are inhabited by long-lived seabed dwelling species such as oysters and sponges.

Beam trawls are also associated with high amounts of bycatch – unwanted fish and other organisms – although the industry and researchers are working on ways to reduce this.

However, the relatively newer electric pulse fishing is not necessarily a solution. Though it does not dig into the seabed to the same extent as traditional beam trawling, research has found it can fatally injure other species which may not be the target catch.

So why use this method if it still has its faults? High fuel costs and EU legislation which has reduced the discarding fish at sea, have renewed interest in the use of electricity in fishing.

Across the world, millions are fed by the fish caught by trawlers so it is unrealistic for trawling to just be stopped altogether, but the variety of negative impacts on the marine ecosystem remain a cause for concern.

Read more at The Conversation.

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