Briefing Paper: Decarbonising the EU Fishing Fleet: Lessons from Today’s Shipping Industry

Decarbonising the EU Fishing Fleet. Lessons from Today's Shipping Industry

Fishing is an energy-intensive activity that produces vast amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In a recent scientific study published in Marine Policy, it was found that fishing vessels released approximately 207 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2016 alone (Greer et al., 2019). And yet, marine fisheries are excluded from global assessments of GHG emissions. To tackle this, decarbonising the fisheries sector must become a priority, as is currently the case for the shipping industry. The transition to cleaner energy required by the European Green Deal and the legislation being developed to make that transition possible (including the revision of the Energy Taxation Directive) offer an opportunity to decarbonise the fisheries sector in the European Union (EU).

At the global level, in 2018, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) adopted a set of targets to reduce GHG emissions from international shipping by 50% compared to 2008 levels. As part of this, the IMO sets out to reduce the carbon intensity of international shipping by 40% in 2030 and 70% in 2050.4 Although these objectives only apply to the shipping industry, nothing is stopping decision makers and the fishing sector from adopting them for the global fishing fleet.

While the journey to decarbonisation is in its primary stages, progress already made within the maritime sector has provided momentum and offers an incremental pathway for the decarbonisation of the fishing fleet. In order to align itself with the objectives of the EU Green Deal and other relevant international agreements, the global fishing industry will need to switch to new sources of energy. The purpose of this briefing paper is to present a feasibility analysis of batteries, synthetic fuels and wind propulsion for fishing vessels by examining examples from the shipping industry, while also considering the advantages and challenges presented by each source of energy.

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Bottom Trawler Playa de Menduina EU bottom trawler the Playa de Menduina active in the North Atlantic. Bottom-trawling boats, the majority from EU countries, drag fishing gear weighing several tonnes across the sea bed, destroying marine wildlife and devastating life on underwater mountains - or 'seamounts'. Greenpeace ship Esperanza tours Atlantic waters searching for and intercepting bottom trawling fishing vessels during a campaign to highlight the destruction caused by this controversial form of fishing. Credit line: © Greenpeace / Kate Davison

Briefing: What if adopting the Energy Taxation Directive was a mitigation action under UNCLOS?

Without the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies from our economies, we will not be able to reach climate objectives under EU law or broader climate objectives under the Paris agreement, in order to ensure a decent future for the planet and humankind in the coming decades. Last December’s COP28 climate summit underlined the urgent need to transition away from fossil fuels and the phasing out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions.

Energy transition and Decarbonisation of the fishing fleet: the Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE)’s Perspective

Energy transition and Decarbonisation of the fishing fleet: the Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE)’s Perspective

Shifting from fossil fuel dependency to a zero carbon economy is as imperative for fisheries as it is for other production sectors. Decarbonisation must also be coherent with the other processes affecting the fisheries sector, and in line with fishery management objectives. Decarbonisation must not be pursued at the expense of biodiversity conservation, nature restoration, and the transition towards a fair and sustainable food system. On the other hand, if the vision of the fisheries of the future is well framed and the energy transition is well aligned with the CFP objectives to end overfishing, conserve and restore the marine environment, and is consistent with the objectives of achieving economic, social and employment benefits, it could provide a great opportunity to revitalise the small-scale low impact fishing sector, and give them prospects of future.