Electrotrawling can improve the sustainability of the bottom trawl fishery for sole: a review of the evidence

Adriaan D. Rijnsdorp*, Pim G. Boute, Justin C. Tiano, Dick de Haan, Marloes Kraan, Hans Polet, Edward Schram, Maarten Soetaert, Nathalie A. Steins, Martin Lankheet, Karline Soetaert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Between 2009 and 2021 almost the complete beam trawl fleet of the Netherlands switched from conventional beam trawls (BT) to pulse trawls (PT) using electrical stimulation to catch sole, Solea solea. Electric fishing, being banned in the EU in 1988, was made possible in 2006 under a derogation. Over the years stakeholders expressed concern about ecosystem effects. Here we review the research conducted. PT improved the selectivity of the fishery and reduced the ecological side effects. PT caught more sole per hour fishing but less discards and benthos than BT. The transition to PT reduced the surface area swept (lower towing speed), sediment depth of disturbance and associated benthic impacts, as well as fuel consumption. Laboratory experiments with 9 fish and 17 benthic invertebrate species showed that exposure to a commercial bipolar pulse stimulus did not result in harmful effects except in cod. Autopsy of cod sampled from PT revealed that 40% had an internal injury. Injury rates in other roundfish species was low (< 2%) and absent in flatfish. Electrical-induced impacts on biogeochemistry were not observed. The transition increased competition with other fishers which fed the resentment against PT. Governance arrangements under which the number of temporary licenses expanded, undermined legitimacy of the gear, resulting in a ban in 2021. Although questions about the ecological impact of electrical stimulation remain, adverse effects are considered negligible in comparison with the benefits.

Original languageEnglish
JournalReviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Apr 2024


  • Beam trawl
  • Benthos
  • Discards
  • Ecological impact
  • Fuel use
  • Governance
  • North Sea
  • Pulse trawl
  • Sea floor
  • Socio-economy


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