The good ship humanity needs to move swiftly in a sustainable direction if we’re to see out the 21st century on a liveable planet because truth be told we really have made a great mess of things with our wasteful, polluting ways. Just considering the amount of plastics in our sea is enough to make you question just about everything and feel a bit glum – it’s a good thing Earth doesn’t have any life-supporting neighbours otherwise it really would be quite embarrassing!
Fortunately there are lots important sustainable course corrections being made all over the place as we grapple with the reality of our difficult situation – but not everything we try is going to fit the bill. Electric pulse fishing is touted by the electric pulse fishing industry as more sustainable but in the absence of independent science to back these claims the spread of this method could be a costly mistake for the environment and another unwelcome disruption to an already traumatised fishing industry.
Becoming more sustainable can involve some easy wins like cutting out single-use plastic bags and carrying a reusable cup. These are changes with instant environmental impacts that everyone can make right now. Others like moving from petrol to electric cars are harder, more costly and complex especially given the electric car industry itself is still trying to figure it all out. But generally these are all the right kinds of moves in an overall sustainable direction.
Testing and introducing new sustainable ways of doing things to hurry us along this path can be fraught with complications. Some are minor like after investing in a reusable coffee cups only to find it’s not accepted in your local coffee shop. A bit annoying sure but you know they’ll eventually get it. But it’s when the change is based on a less clearly sustainable argument and more an economic one that caution is warranted. Sometimes, especially where there’s likely massive disruption, it’s really best to wait for the science.
Last week the European Parliament fisheries committee accepted a method of fishing using electric pulses to be considered conventional. This method uses a series of electrical drag wires mounted into a net and the wires send electrical pulses into the seabed which cause the muscles of fish to contract and forces the fish upwards and out of the seabed and into the net. The Dutch have been practicing it for nearly 30 years and the move by the EU could mean it becomes more widely used in Europe.
It’s claimed that it ensures more of the target species is caught, that there’s less damage to the seabed and fish that are caught are in better condition. It’s also been alleged that the practice uses less fuel and reduces the number of areas ships need to go to catch the fish. But the problem is there’s a lack of scientific evidence to support their claims despite three decades of use.
“The practice of pulse fishing simply has too many unknowns to be allowed to be used unfettered and as our fishermen face into the greatest crisis their industry has ever seen I am not minded to begin taking risks with their livelihoods.”https://t.co/6J9ECLp0uD pic.twitter.com/7IsyeDMu9Y
— Liadh Ní Riada MEP (@LiadhNiRiadaMEP) November 28, 2017
Electric pulse fishing is indeed a cheaper alternative to beam trawling, receipts alone are needed to make that case, and for this reason we’re likely to see this method eventually make its way to Ireland. But when a new method has potentially multiple environmental impacts it would seem wise to invoke the precautionary principle – tread carefully! – and do solid independent research first. The problem with new sustainable ideas and methods is sometimes we discover they’re not really sustainable at all and by the time the scientific evidence reveals this, millions have been invested and mistakes on that scale can take decades to fix.
Cheaper and more convenient are certainly not bad attributes of course, but we know if they are not allied with sustainability we’re just storing up problems for the future. With electric pulse fishing we need to be very careful to make sure this isn’t another needless disrupting element introduced to an Irish fishing industry that’s already had more than its fair share of shocks and a marine environment already filled to the brim with the consequences of past mistakes.