Fishing trawler at sea

Claim Brexit let UK Government ban pulse fishing is Mostly True

Within hours of the end of the Brexit transition period, the UK Government made a change to fishing laws to ban a type of fishing known as “pulse fishing”.

The change was promoted by a number of Conservative party politicians and official Conservative social media accounts. Many of the messages suggested that the ban was only possible because the UK had left the European Union. 

Many people responded to these claims by disputing whether the ban really was only possible because of Brexit.

Claim Brexit let UK Government ban pulse fishing is Mostly True 7

Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it Mostly True


Pulse fishing, sometimes known as “electro-trawling”, is a form of fishing invented by Dutch fishermen that uses electrical pulses to force species that live on the sea-bed into fishing nets. 

It has proven controversial with conservationists since it was first introduced. Although it has technically been illegal in all EU waters since 1998, some fishermen were able to exploit a loophole in the EU law that permits pulse fishing to be used for “research purposes”.

Nevertheless, in 2018, the European Parliament passed a new law completely banning pulse fishing, with the new ban set to come into force in mid-2021. 

However, existing EU law also gives member states the ability to ban pulse fishing within 12 nautical miles of their coastline. This 12 mile limit is often described as a country’s “territorial waters.” 

The UK, France and Belgium took advantage of this power to enact bans on pulse fishing in their territorial waters. The UK also negotiated an informal agreement with the Dutch Government extending the pulse fishing ban to 18 nautical miles from UK coasts in February 2019. 

However, UK Fishery Limits extend much further into the North Sea. They are defined by a 200 nautical mile limit. The UK was prevented by EU law from banning fishing boats from pulse fishing in the area between the 12 mile territorial limit and the 200 mile UK Fishery Limit. 

In 2019, the UK Government announced that it would ban pulse fishing in UK waters “after Brexit,” using a Statutory Instrument to amend existing laws in this area. This ban would cover the entire UK Fishery Limit waters, not just territorial waters.  

In an emailed statement, DEFRA confirmed that there were four English registered pulse vessels. They have been told by the Marine Management Organisation that their authorisations were to be withdrawn at the end of 2020.  

In addition, DEFRA stated that an authorisation for the single electro-pulse beam trawler registered in Scotland is to be withdrawn “before July 2021.”

The Conservative Party social media account posted the message in a social media graphic on January 2, 2021. 

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Mostly True

The UK was able to bring in a ban on pulse fishing after Brexit, as European Union laws prevented the UK from banning boats that used the method in a large area of water within the UK Fishing Limit. However, EU laws did allow the UK to ban pulse fishing within its territorial waters. A more comprehensive pulse fishing ban across all EU seas is set to be introduced in mid-2021.

Mostly True

Ferret Fact Service contacted The Conservative Party to ask for evidence supporting their claim. They did not respond.

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, and signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles.

All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here.

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