Beam trawling is one of the most destructive forms of bottom trawling. Beam trawls do not drag one big net behind the vessel, but have two smaller bottom trawl nets on each side of the vessel. The beam, which can be up to 12 meters long, keeps the net open horizontally, while metal frames at each end keep it open vertically. Tick metal chains can be used ahead of the ground rope to raise fish which may otherwise be crushed by the beam.

This kind of fishing is widely used in the North Sea to catch crustaceans and smaller demersal fish, like plaice. Beam trawling has a big environmental impact, because due to the small mesh size of the nets it produces the highest rates of bycatch in all fisheries: One ton of shrimp can come with 8 to 12 tons of bycatch, while one kilogram of plaice can come with up to 6 kilogram of other marine life as bycatch.

Bycatch in a shrimp fishery in Florida, USA (NOAA)

Electric Pulse Fishing

A special form of beam trawling is electric pulse fishing. Electric fishing consists of equipping trawl nets with electrodes that send an electrical current into the seabed. 

An electric pulse net on a beam trawler in IJmuiden

The electric shock causes a muscular convulsion in fish, forcing them out of the sand into the fishing net. The electric current used causes such violent, uncontrolled convulsions that 50 to 70% of large cods are left with a fractured spine and internal bleeding after the shock. It has been shown that fishermen using the method discard up to 60% of their catch and it is thought to lead to more juvenile fish being caught. This fishing method is very effective and enables the fishing industry to catch fish more easily, but at the cost of huge destruction to marine ecosystems and exacerbating the problems of overfishing and depleting fish stocks.

Radioscopy showing a cod with a broken spine after an electric shock (top) // Blacktail pattern indicating vertebral injury (bottom)

Electric fishing has been banned in Europe since 1998 along with other destructive fishing methods such as fishing with explosives, poison or ‘stupefying substances’. Defenders of electric trawling claim that this fishing gear is sustainable only because they compare it to some of the most damaging gear there is – beam trawling – but neither are acceptable fishing methods for the future of healthy and abundant fish stocks in European waters.

In January 2018 the European Parliament adopted a full and definitive ban on electric fishing in Europe. This victory was a collective success of the French organisation BLOOM and all the artisanal fishers and NGOs like The Black Fish, Our Fish and the Blue Marine Foundation. Read the full report on the impacts of electric pulse fishing, that was published for the campaign here.

Learn more about the techniques of modern fisheries here.

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