Netherlands misled Europe to get more pulse fishing permits: report
Officials at the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture deliberately withheld information from the European Commission and fudged figures and calculations to get as many pulse fishing permits as possible for Dutch fishermen, NOS reports based on documents received after appealing to the Open Government Act.
The Ministry only gave NOS some of the documents the broadcaster requested. According to the broadcaster, the Ministry gave several explanations for why other documents were kept secret, including that disclosure could lead to European criminal proceedings. And that releasing some documents could endanger the Netherlands' relations with other states and international organizations. "I am of the opinion that this interest should outweigh the importance of disclosure, since disclosure could harm the international position of the Netherlands in the pulse file," NOS quoted a letter the Ministry sent with the disclosed documents.
The documents NOS did receive showed how the Ministry misled Brussels in order to get as many permits as possible, and with effect. The Netherlands managed to get permits for a quarter of the total fleet, meaning that 84 Dutch ships were allowed to use the pulse fishing technique, in which fish are startled from the sea floor with small electrical currents. Brussels originally only wanted to give permits for 5 percent of the fleet, or up to 22 ships.
The Netherlands managed to get so many permits, resulting in Dutch fishermen being able to fish more efficiently than many of their European counterparts, by fudging the numbers, according to NOS. The Netherlands pretended that 5 percent of the fleet equaled about 42 ships, while 42 ships actually represented 12.5 percent of the Dutch fleet. That number was eventually doubled again. "Doubling an already very dubious number," one official said about that.
In emails to each other, Dutch officials raised concerns about their methods being illegal and "dubious". But they were instructed to keep it quiet form the European Commission and the political top of the Ministry. The disclosed documents showed that officials experienced pressure from parliament and the fishing industry to obtain as many pulse fishing permits as possible. The fishing industry was in dire straits, so fishermen had to be "supported in every way possible", one official wrote.
Top officials at the Ministry of Agriculture estimated that the Netherlands had the best chance of getting more permits from Brussels if the European Commission was not fully informed. "It is important that these questions are handled with as little attention as possible," the broadcaster quoted from the documents.
Some officials warned that this strategy could eventually come back to bite the Netherlands. And they turned out to be right. There was so much opposition to Dutch pulse fishing from France and the European Parliament that the European Union decided to ban pulse fishing. That ban goes into effect tomorrow, July 1.