Pulse fishing offers only benefits

Sjaak Brinkman is the fourth generation of a well-known family of fishermen from Stellendam in southern Holland. Great-grandfather Piet, grandfather Henk, father Cees and uncle Jan fished for sole and plaice in the North Sea.

In the early days, the founder of the family business fished under sail. Over the years vessels have been replaced, but in accordance with tradition, the SL-42 registration number has remained with the family through four generations.


Four years ago, Sjaak Brinkman, the current skipper-owner of the beam trawler Jan Cornelis III SL-42, was one of the first to switch from conventional beam trawl fishing to innovative pulse fishing.


“It was either pulse fishing or stopping altogether. Fishing with tickler chains has no future. The savings on fuel using pulse fishing are huge. A large beamer such as the SL-42 only needs 18,000 litres of fuel per week, compared with 46,000 using traditional beam trawl gear. That means a saving on diesel of more than half. What is more, by changing the pulse amplitude you can fish selectively. Changing the settings directly affects the catch,” Sjaak Brinkman said.


Ever rising costs prompted the Brinkman family to consolidate, with their fleet reduced from four trawlers to the one they have operating today.


Of the approximately one hundred trawlers which fish for Dover sole, 84 permits have been issued for pulse fishing and 80 have actually made the transition.


The systems are becoming more sophisticated to minimise by-catch and reduce costs as much as possible.


This is why Sjaak Brinkman has recently invested in a new Multibeam with leading edges, developed in cooperation with Delmeco Fishing Technology in Colijnsplaat and Oosters Metaal in Stellendam, designed with the pulse modules mounted on the wing.



“I want to make progress, to continue to develop. Before this, I also had to convince my father, who is now seventy years old,” he said. “He had, in his turn, learned the art of fishing from my grandfather. ”


Pending a final decision by the European Commission, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs has granted a five-year exemption to allow pulse fishing.


“The Netherlands has by far the largest allocation to fish for North Sea sole. It is significantly higher than Belgium and France. The quotas vary from year to year.


I think regulating the maximum catch per year is a good thing in the context of maintaining the ecosystem. Fishermen and farmers have to be protected against themselves,” Sjaak Brinkman said.


“They are conservative by nature and inclined to let everything run its course. They don’t usually take action themselves. However, without a catch limit there wouldn’t be any more sole fishing in five years. ”


A possible ’no’ to pulse fishing from the European Member States would also be disastrous for the sector, he said.


“The benefits must be weighed against the disadvantages. As far as we can see, however, there are only advantages. There is much less seabed disturbance than with the traditional tickler chain method. Surely we cannot return to the old system, in which the seabed is ploughed up and the fish are, effectively sandblasted.”


“With pulse fishing, the flat fish are stimulated to rise up out of the sand. So there are no more heavy chains shovelling away under the sand, which plough up the seabed.


“The pulse gear brings only the clean, undamaged, highest quality fish, without by-catch such as sea stars, razor clams, crabs and all kinds of junk like sand and stones. Besides the savings in fuel, this ability to actually select your catch is the greatest advantage.

“Because of the amount of sand and stones dragged into the net, a net was previously only good for twenty weeks, whereas now it is sixty weeks. More than a year! ”




“We only fish for sole, and (to a lesser extent) plaice. Sole is the flatfish which is most highly valued by consumers. Chain mat fishing can no longer be considered acceptable.


“The pulse also widens the geographic field. It means we can fish in places that were inaccessible with the old methods. We traditionally fish especially off the South Holland and Belgian coast, but the pulse equipment also makes fishing off the French and English coasts easier.


“The problem is that sole is almost exclusively caught by Dutch fishermen (or via the Dutch under the British flag), but that all the European Union Member States must decide on whether to legalise pulse fishing.


“Countries other than the Netherlands have, however, little or no interest. Shouldn’t we then also have to decide on whether or not to allow a new ski lift in Austria? ”


While we’re talking and the boat’s catch is landed, Sjaak Brinkman shows me a large fresh Dover sole.


“This is a real delicacy. A Dover sole such as this one is much broader than an Atlantic sole, which is bright white. A real Dover sole can be recognised by greyish threads in the white meat,” he explained


European fishing has recently been subjected to the landing obligation, making it mandatory to bring all catches ashore; both commercial catches and by-catch. The landing obligation is due to be phased in gradually for flatfish and other fisheries between 2016 and 2019.


Sjaak Brinkman, a practical man, strongly disagrees with the new discards regulation.


“How did they come up with it? I’m sick of all these little rules from Brussels in which all kinds of people without any knowledge are allowed to have a say.”

--Henk van de Voorde