The Pulse Fishing Policy: Success or Not?
By Huib Oversloot & Willemijn Limborgh
In many cases it is not easy to assess whether public policy is either successful or not successful at all. To understand why it is actually difficult to define public policy as a success, this blog uses the recently introduced ban on pulse fishing as an example. The purpose of this ban is to achieve a pulse fishing free Europe in 2021 (Volkskrant, 2019). Pulse fishing is a way of fishing whereby fishers use a limited electric field above the seabed to catch fish. Through electric shocks, fish are triggered and swim into the net. The ban was introduced because some big countries complained about overfishing and a few environmental organizations complained about the consequences for the sea environment (Volkskrant, 2019). In addition, it is interesting to note that Dutch fishers are the only fishers that have been able to use this way of electric fishing in a successful manner. In 1988 electric fishing was already forbidden, but the Dutch invented a new way of electric fishing that was still allowed (Ministerie van Economische Zaken, 2015).
To really understand policy success, we use the assessment map that has been introduced by Compton and ‘t Hart (2019). This map contains different dimensions of looking at a certain policy to eventually define its success. The first dimension is about what the policy seeks to do: does your policy really have an impact on the issue that you want to solve and what are the corresponding costs and benefits? (Compton & ‘t Hart, 2019)
In order to make the fishing market more equal and to tackle an industrialized way of fishing that big countries like France do not find fair, the ban on pulse fishing is introduced as a problem solver. This new policy seems very effective in reaching its goal. From 2021 there will be almost a complete ban on pulse fishing that is going to be controlled in a clear way with almost zero exceptions (NRC, 2019). Most of the costs of this policy will be paid by the Dutch fishers. They lose their income and their ships are already useless for a regular way of fishing.
The second dimension is all about legitimacy. Policy is legitimate when there is a (big) political coalition that supports the policy (Compton & ‘t Hart, 2019). In case of the ban on pulse fishing, there was an overwhelming majority of the European parliament in favour of the new policy (571 votes in favour, 20 blank votes, 60 votes against) (Volkskrant, 2019). Despite active lobbying, The Netherlands was still the only country that voted against it.
The third dimension refers to thoughtful and fair policymaking. The relevant values and interests have to be considered while making policy (Compton & ‘t Hart, 2019). In case of the ban on pulse fishing, the Dutch fishers are disproportionately disadvantaged. They made huge investments to be able to fish this way, whilst these investments are now worthless (NRC, 2019). Meanwhile, other stakeholders do not suffer from any financial loss. Therefore, it is unfair that they did not compromise with some sort of financial compensation or lenient transitional arrangement for the Dutch.
Deciding if policy is successful is all about framing. The dimensions we discussed show that the ban could be considered a success, whilst there are also arguments that state that the ban is not successful at all. Beyond the fact that the ban might not be fair at all, there is
also research of Wageningen University that shows that regular fishing is actually worse for the seabed than pulse fishing (Van Marlen, Grift, van Keeken, Ybema, & van Hal. 2006). There is more fuel needed to fish the regular way and there is also more unwanted by-catch. In the end the Dutch fishers are just more innovative than the others, but get punished for their creativity. These arguments show that the policy may not be considered a success.
Therefore, we find it clear that policy success depends on the criteria and arguments you find most important.
Compton, M. E., & ‘t Hart, P. (2019). How to ‘See’ Great Policy Successes. A Field Guide to Spotting Policy Success in the Wild (1-19)
Ministerie van Economische Zaken. (2015). Pulse fisheries in the Netherlands. EC Fact Finding Mission 2-4. The Hague.
Peeperkorn, M. (2019, 13 februari). Vrijwel volledig verbod op pulsvissen per 2021. De volkskrant. Visited:
Smit, P. H., ( 2019, 16 april). Verbod op pulsvissen is definitief: overweldigende meerderheid van Europees Parlement stemt voor. De volkskrant. Visited:
Tuenter, G. (2019). Duurzaam of vissen elektrocutie. De NRC. Visited:
Van Marlen, b., Grift, R., van Keeken, O., Ybema, M. S. & van Hal, R. (2006) Performance of pulse trawling compared to conventional beam trawling. Wageningen: IMARES.