The Dutch beam trawl fleet counts less than 65 vessels. In less than two decades the size of this fleet has shrunk significantly. In the southwest part of The Netherlands there are still some small fishing ports from where every Monday morning a number of beam trawlers are heading to the fishing grounds in the southern part of the North Sea which is known by very strong tidal currents.
The fishing port of Vlissingen is located on the south coast of a former island as it was a delta area many years ago. Beam trawlers from Vlissingen and the neighbour fishing village Arnemuiden are using that port for landing their flat fish catches. One of the beamers is the ARM-22 ‘Klaas-Adriana’, built in 1993 and with an overall length of 44 metres. The skipper on this beamer is Jan Marijs.
Jan Marijs is, as most fishermen in The Netherlands, member of a traditional fishing family. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all fishermen. The father of Jan launched this vessel and later Jan Marijs replaced him when his dad retired.
The vessel makes fishing trips for a period of three to four days. In summer months, the ‘Klaas-Adriana’ lands the catches on Friday morning. Sometimes they already arrive to port on Thursday evening. During winter months, when fishing can be sometimes fairly good, skipper Jan Marijs opts for a 3-day trip. That means landing on Thursday morning. During the weekends they never fish. Fortunately the fishing grounds are not that far away. The grounds where the beamer normally fish are located between the Belgian, Dutch and British coast.
As the beamer used to fish with heavy duty gear such as tickler chains and iron shoes the fuel consumption was quite high. When the price of fuel started to increase Jan Marijs decided to remove the heavy parts of the fish gear and to reduce the speed during fishing. Over the past few years he and his brothers, three brothers are crew members, introduced the pulse technology onboard. From that moment the heavy duty gear was history and the fuel consumption decreased while the catches remain on the same level.
At the start of 2015 Jan Marijs signed in for the trawl net innovation project. The aim of the project is to reduce the by-catches of undersized and juvenile fish, especially flat fish. By putting a selective panel in the cod-end, including an escape panel on the top side of the cod-end, Jan and his crew are checking the impact continuously. Sometimes a researcher joins them in order to take samples and gather data. Skipper Marijs realises that the discard ban will force the fishermen to fish as selective as possible. “Although we will not be able to get a one hundred percent reduction on discards it is still worthwhile to figure out if our way of fishing is sustainable and acceptable. Of course the amount of undersized flat fish can be reduced to a certain level, but here in the southern North Sea it is almost impossible to avoid smaller flat fish. This area is characterised by the presence of juvenile sole, dab and plaice. Bigger meshes means losing a lot of sizable fish“, says skipper Marijs.Nevertheless he will continue with the trawl net innovation project because the ‘cleaner’ the cod-end is, the less work they have to do separating marketable fish from undersized fish.
Skipper Jan Marijs also mentions the change from traditional beam trawling to pulse trawling. Marijs: “The advantages of using pulse technology are great. The main engine consumes less fuel, therefore the emission has dropped, and the percentage of benthos, such as sea stars, worms, whelks, sea snails caught have also dropped in numbers too. So by introducing the electric technology we already made a lot of progress in terms of responsible fishing“. Moreover the pulse technology gear causes fewer disturbance to the seabed comparing with the traditional beam trawl method. In 2014 a French colleague, the owner of a gill netter from Dunkirk, joined the crew onboard the ‘Klaas-Adriana’. Skipper Marijs invited him in order to show him that everything in the cod-end is alive. The French fisherman was surprised. He could not believe his eyes. For the Dutch beam trawl fleet electric pulse technology is a major step towards responsible fishing.