The Electric Pulse Fisher - Friday

Friday, January 18, 15.14, Amsterdam


Already my final day on board. Last night I slept a bit and got out of bed at a quarter to five, to film the process of bringing in the nets at the request of Hans. Afterwards we had coffee, I showered for the first time this week and we docked in Scheveningen around six o'clock in the morning. The men start working right away. During the week we’ve filled up the fish-hold below deck, with boxes of plaice, sole, whiting and other species. The boxes are hoisted onto the dock stack by stack. From there the fish are immediately driven away by a fork-lift truck to be sorted by size. About three hours after we’ve docked, the fish is sold at the fish auction.

While the men are working I’m talking to journalist and Scheveninger Willem-Ment den Heijer. Willem likes to come to the fish auction on Fridays for a chat, he seem to know all the fishermen. He’s the type that can talk for hours on end, sharing anecdotes and facts about fishing at home and abroad. Willem tells me about fishing industry off the coast of Dakar and other places in West Africa. There, trawlers used to be active under the Dutch flag, but nowadays Italians, Taiwanese, Japanese and Chinese mainly fish there.

When the fish-hold is empty, we drink coffee with location manager from the fish auction, Wim Harteveld. Another friendly, cordial man, and again someone who does not need much external input to keep him talking for a while. The conversation goes back and forth, about the operation of the auction, different preferences on when to offer your fish at the auction, the friction between Dutch flyshoot fishermen and French coastal fishermen in Boulogne. One anecdote after the other flies over the table during the second round of coffee with ‘Zeeuwse bolus’.

Skipper Hans in conversation with the fish auction’s location manager, while awaiting his proceeds this week.

Skipper Hans in conversation with the fish auction’s location manager, while awaiting his proceeds this week.

After coffee, the crew gets back to work, nets are checked and small repairs are made. At half past ten a taxi will pick them up, to spend the weekend with the family again. And I, I am standing on the docks of Scheveningen, still moving back and forth ever so slightly on the rhythm this weeks waves. It will take a few days before I have fully processed the events, new knowledge and the perspective of these fishermen.

My conclusion for now: I have not seen any fish coming on board that was visibly damaged by the electric puls. I think it is credible that under-sized fish that does go overboard has a considerable chance of survival, and that there is strict control on quotas, making overfishing on the North Sea increasingly unlikely. I think Europe will benefit from further research into the role of pulse in fisheries. But it is not a case that is easily justified in Brussels. The Dutch government has, in a pragmatic manner, helped out a distressed group of fishers, with the help of legislation that was intended for scientific research at European level. That is not to blame Hans and Peter, and I certainly would not want to be in their shoes with the uncertain future they have for themselves.

Just before I leave for home I meet Jan Tanis, father of Hans. Jan seems naturally, or perhaps through the years, to have a milder and more optimistic vision. I ask him how he looks at the future, with all the uncertainties surrounding the pulse, Brexit, windmills and quotas. 'We will continue to fish, we have always done that', he says.

Update February 15th: Yesterday, after a full ban on the pulse fishing method was confirmed by the European Union. Half of the Dutch pulse fishermen can still fish for 2.5 years with the pulse technique. Among them is the GO 37. The other half of the fishermen, about 42 ships, will lose their pulse license this year.

There are two options left open:
1. If future scientific research shows that pulse fishing is not bad, then the ban can be reconsidered.
2. The European members of Parliament who are in favour of a quick pulse fishing ban are being put on the spot by the negotiators. If they vote against this ban starting from July 1, 2021, then the entire ban will have to be renegotiated after the European elections in May. That could take years.

The future remains uncertain.

Maarten Kuiper