Lessons learned from the transition towards an innovative fishing technique

This thesis by Tim Haasnoot identified the transition pathway of the pulse trawl technique on flatfish. The research focused on the period 1988 till 2014. In 1988, a ban on electric fishing was introduced, which is still in force today. Despite this ban, an innovative fishing gear was developed in the Netherlands, which used an electric stimulus to catch flatfish. Over time, this gear proved to be a good alternative to the heavily criticized conventional beam trawl. A transition of the beam trawl fleet towards the pulse trawl technique requires adaptations in the technical measures of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Adjusting the technical measures in order to permanently admit the pulse trawl technique encounters a lot of resistance from other EU member states for various reasons.

The goal of this case study is to use the theory on transitions to explain and understand the transition pathway of the pulse trawl technique. Data for this study were obtained through a literature survey and through interviews with people from science, the Ministry, NGOs and industry. This research contributes to our overall knowledge on how transitions proceed and provides involved actors and institutions insight in the transition pathway of the pulse trawl technique. If a better understanding is generated on how transitions work and what factors are important to realize a transition, it provides policymakers and managers insight in how they can influence the pathway of a transition towards more sustainable systems and societies.

Through research it became clear that the transition pathway of the pulse trawl could be separated into two distinct time periods. The first time period shows how the pulse trawl technique was developed and tested, and tried to breakthrough in the Dutch regime. Eventually, the pulse trawl managed to breakthrough in the Dutch regime. Crucial to this breakthrough were the oil price developments and the growing criticism and concerns on the environmental impact of the conventional beam trawl. These developments exerted a lot of pressure on Dutch regime actors and institutions and stimulated the need for an innovative fishing technique that could be used as an alternative to the conventional beam trawl.

Once the Dutch regime had implemented and accepted the pulse trawl technique, the second time period started. A wider introduction of the pulse trawl technique was being hampered by the ban on electric fishing. Dutch regime actors and institutions were now trying to expand the number of licenses to use the pulse trawl technique, but a wider diffusion of this technique would require changes in the European regime. However, most European member states objected a further expansion of the number of licenses for the pulse trawl technique for various reasons. As a result, Dutch regime actors and institutions kept looking for opportunities to expand the number of licenses of the pulse trawl technique, while trying to convince other European member states of the advantages and importance of this fishing technique for the Dutch flatfish cutter fleet.

The research results clearly demonstrate that the transition pathway of the pulse trawl technique is continually influenced by various factors. Therefore, the transition pathway of the pulse trawl technique does not follow one specific pathway, but is build-­‐up of a mixed transition pathway. The factors that led to this mixed transition pathway of the pulse trawl technique are:

  • Technology-­push character: a lot of attention has been paid to the development of the pulse trawl technique during the transition process, but little attention was being paid to the social aspects of the transition (cultural preferences, social practices, changing relationships).
  • Competition: between fishermen with and without a pulse trawl license, between EU member states on the competitiveness of their fishing fleets, and between different pulse systems.
  • Landscape level developments: like the oil ricedevelopments and the need for more sustainable fisheries by society.
  • Regime level developments: this case study clearly demonstrates that the breakthrough of an innovation in a part of the regime (NL) does not automatically imply a complete breakthrough in the regime (EU).

Although there is no clear recipe for realizing transitions, this case study does provide new insights and knowledge on the course of transitions. The lessons learned from the pulse trawl case can be extrapolated to other fishery related innovations or other sectors. All this knowledge will ultimately contribute to a better understanding of transition processes.