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The Murky Waters of Sustainable Fishing

The murky waters of sustainable fishing became even more obscured recently when the European Union banned the practice of electric fishing.

Also known as “pulse trawling,” this controversial method of catching sediment-dwelling fish like sole that are longtime favourites on restaurant menus has been called sustainable fishing by some groups and short-sighted by others.

Approximately 30 per cent of Dutch fishing fleets use this method, which puts an electrical current into the water but does not touch the seabed. Sought-after flatfish like sole are drawn out of the sediment and into nets. Advocates say the method substantially cuts down on by-catch and doesn’t damage the ocean floor. But opponents argue that it could cause unknown harm to marine life. Further research is needed, but the EU ban puts that research at risk, not to mention the Dutch fishing industry, which had invested in the method because of its supposed sustainability and its profitability.

Reaction to the ban has been mixed. Greenpeace Netherlands was surprised by the EU’s decision, saying it will negatively affect innovation in the fishing industry. And one Dutch MP put her hand in a tank with the electric current to show that there is no danger to electric fishing, calling the opposition “fake news.” But some Michelin-starred chefs applauded the EU’s move, and the Relais & Chateaux group announced it would not serve fish caught in this manner. In the meantime, Arthur’s Restaurant in Toronto will continue to have Dutch Dover sole on its retro menu, electrically caught or not. — EMMA WAVERMAN

Photo courtesy Fish for Thought