The Dutch fishermen argue that the technique, known as electric pulse fishing, is environmentally friendly because it allows trawlers to use far less diesel and doesn't damage the seabed. Opponents call it industrial fishing that is wiping out fish stocks.
Dozens of pulse fishers and their families visited parliament to call for protection while acknowledging that talks this week between European parliamentarians and EU member states will very likely lead to a ban.
Jacob Bakker, who sails a pulse fishing trawler out of the small Dutch port of Urk, said he doesn't want to abandon pulse fishing because "it is proven that it is a more sustainable way of fishing." Dutch fishers say pulse trawlers use half as much diesel as their old fishing technique, which involved dragging chains along the seabed to dislodge fish.
Bakker called on Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to intervene. He "is the only one who can help us by talking to (French President Emmanuel) Macron" before the meeting in Strasbourg, Bakker said. The Dutch fishing industry has invested heavily in the practice, although it is only supposedly being carried out on an experimental basis under special EU exemptions. Going back to old techniques will cost the fleet millions, according to research commissioned by the Dutch fishing industry.
Nearly 80 of the Dutch fleet's 137 trawlers are equipped for pulse fishing. The pulse trawlers caught 75 percent of the total catch of sole in 2016, according to figures released by the country's fishing groups.
Environmentalists and fishers in France and Britain insist that the technique amounts to industrial fishing that could empty the seas of certain species. Environmentalists also warn that it could have damaging consequences for marine ecosystems and say more study is needed into the possible effects.
"There is much controversy about the environmental impact of the electric pulses which needs to be further assessed by independent scientific bodies," marine environmental group Seas At Risk said in a statement.
Jerry Percy, director of an association of small-scale fishers in Britain, said he had repeatedly heard from local fishermen that not only fish but even worms that live in the sands off the coast disappeared after pulse trawlers passed by.
"Commercial fishers were coming to me and saying, 'this is like fishing in a graveyard,'" Percy said. Carola Schouten, the Dutch minister for agriculture, nature and fisheries, said in Parliament that "it doesn't look good" for pulse fishers, but defended the method.
"It is sustainable. It is good for the seabed. It is good to counter overfishing and it generates fewer emissions. And the fishers can earn a good living," Schouten told lawmakers in parliament as the protesting fishers looked on from the public gallery.