dutch beam trawker activity

A letter from the FSK-PO reveals that the Director-General of DG MARE knew about Dutch beam trawler activities. Photo: H.J. Blomvliet

A letter written to the Charlina Vitcheva, in June this year, reveals that the Director-General of DG MARE, was made aware of Dutch beam trawler transgressions in Danish water but instead chose to ignore that it was putting the livelihoods of local fishermen in danger.

This week a joint investigation from Danish media outlets revealed that Dutch beam trawlers were fishing illegally in Danish inshore waters, by turning off their AIS. This is despite it being mandatory for all vessels over 15 metres to have their AIS switched on during their time at sea.

Søren Jacobsen Chairman of FSK-PO and small-scale fisherman wrote to the Director-General informing her, “The beam trawler fleet systematically turns down or shut of their AIS signals as well as there are strong indications that they do not adhere to the landing obligation.”

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The Chairman of the FDK-PO also informed Vitcheva that local fishermen had lost fishing gear to these beam trawlers and had not been compensated for their losses, but instead feared that they would lose their livelihoods.

Mr Jacobsen’s statement was reaffirmed today by Brian O’Riordan, Executive Secretary of the Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE)who tweeted, “Just the tip of the iceberg. There is evidence that 20 NL beam trawlers (500 Gt /40 m) R exceeding their plaice quotas in the Skagerrak & discarding large quantities of undersize fish. They destroy Danish inshore fleet (10-20 GT, 12-15m) gears and grounds. Must be stopped.”

The Danish government has announced plans to phase out the use of bottom trawling in the country’s waters starting with coastal areas, understood to mean withing one-nautical mile and fishing where it is less than 10 metres deep.

Below is the reply from the FSK-PO to the Director-General of DG MARE

Concerns about activities of the Dutch beam trawl fleet in Danish coastal waters

Thank you for your reply on April 30, 2021, where you reply on our concerns of the beam trawler fleet.

We find your reply rather surprising. And we are disappointed that you do not seem to acknowledge the fact that the livelihoods of our members are in danger.

We are surprised that you don’t refer to the Biodiversity Strategy and the provisions for restoring the good environmental status of marine ecosystems. The strategy emphasises that bottom contacting gears are the most damaging to the seabed, and it proposes to introduce “measures to limit the use of fishing gear most harmful to biodiversity, including on the seabed”. In our view beam trawling falls into this category.

Likewise, the European Parliament adopted a text on June 8 on the Biodiversity strategy that clearly illustrates the view of the Parliament the potential negative impact of all kinds trawling – not just beam trawling – on the marine environment and sustainability of stocks.

The text from the European Parliament calls on the Commission and Member States to reduce the impact of fisheries on marine ecosystems, including by limiting practices or uses that have detrimental impacts. The European Parliament also notes with concern that widespread physical disturbance of the seafloor continues in coastal EU waters in particular as a result of bottom trawling, and that bottom trawling has a highly detrimental impact on the seabed depending on the fishery and the particularities of the fished areas.

As we noted in our previous letter, beam trawling falls into the “highly detrimental” category. And we very much share the concern of the European Parliament of the effect of beam trawling on the marine ecosystems. Besides that – as we both talks about and informed you about in previous letters. The beam trawler fleet systematically turns down or shut of their AIS signals as well as there are strong indications that they do not adhere to the landing obligation.

The Parliament also calls on the Commission to limit the use of bottom trawling in coastal areas, and in the upcoming Action Plan to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems, and to promote and secure the wider use of the most sustainable and least damaging practices. We believe that actions on the beam trawler fleet operation in the North Sea and the Skagerrak are in line with the views of the parliament.  

It is also of note that several eNGOs in their replies on the consultation on the Action Plan state that a restriction on bottom trawling should be a key priority of the coming Action Plan to conserve fisheries resources.

So, beam trawling, are not only of concern to us as you write in your reply, but also of concern to the European Parliament, as well as eNGOs across Europe.

We hope that the Commission will take note of these views and concerns when drafting the upcoming Action Plan. As we noted before strong and clear language is needed to reduce the beam trawler fleet. This cannot be put solely in the hands of Member States.

You mention in your letter the voluntary agreement between the fisheries organizations on limiting the use of chains and beam trawls in certain parts of the Skagerrak. The agreement has almost no effect on the problem we raised. It is only close to Hirtshals harbour that the beam trawlers were allowed to go closer to the shore than 12 miles, and only 1 beam trawler has used chain matts in Skagerrak.

Chain mats are still widely used in the North Sea. And are still an immediate threat to the small-scale sector and marine environment there.

The agreement has not solved any of the issues we raised in our earlier letter and in our meeting with you. The problems we highlighted with beam trawlers at the shallow banks along the shores of Jammerbugt in the Skagerrak between 12 and 24 miles from the coast – remain.

Displacement of the smaller vessel fleet

October 30, 2017, the small-scale fishing vessel HM 33 “Kikani III”, owned by a fisherman that has fished from Thorupstrand most of his life, lost its gear at sea. The gear was towed away and destroyed by the Dutch beam trawler UK 456 “Marie-José.

Kikani lost gear worth approximately 27,000 EUR and was not able to fish for weeks in the high season, thus adding approximately 40,000 EUR in lost earnings and related costs on top of the lost gear.

The beam trawlers wanted access to the fishing grounds historically fished by the coastal fishermen of Thorupstrand. Rather than finding out about existing activities, they just moved in, ignoring the gear already set there. We are aware that there are no “rights” in the ocean to certain spots. But following this incident, former local fishing grounds became occupied by this larger more powerful fleet, which pushed the locals out.

The sheer size of the beam trawler fleet vessels compared to the small-scale fleet makes this an unequal contest, and displacement easy. The bigger vessels displace the coastal fleet, because they can, demonstrating that “might is right”. Surely this is not the objective of the Common Fisheries Policy?

We are in a situation where the larger scale, powerful and high impact fleet is pushing out the smaller low impact fleet. The policy is currently not able to stop this, and neither do we see any political will to do so., This is despite the fact that the large beam trawlers are in no way fishing in a manner that delivers on key sustainability objectives of the CFP, as per Article 2 of the Basic Regulation (No 1380/2013). On the contrary.

To this day the owner of Kikani has still not received any compensation for lost gear or loss of earnings following the lost fishing opportunities.

We are very concerned about whether the CFP can really achieve its stated sustainability objectives when, as our example shows, it’s not possible to protect the marine environment, the livelihoods of small-scale fishermen and the vitality of fishing towns across the EU waterfront.

We hope that you take this call to action seriously, and we urge you to put in strong and binding targets for reducing the most destructive parts of the EU fleet in the forthcoming Action Plan.

Søren Jacobsen Chairman of FSK-PO and small-scale fisherman

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FSK-PO letter reveals DG MARE was aware of Dutch beam trawler activities

by editor time to read: 10 min