Publication: September 2023
Download: English
Executive summary: ESDEENFRIT
At a glance note: English
Authors: AZTI: Oihane C. BASURKO, Martin ARANDA, Ainhoa CABALLERO, Marga ANDRES, Jefferson MURUA, Gorka GABIÑA

The European Green Deal (EGD) aims at transforming the EU into a resource-efficient, modern and competitive society. This can be achieved by making Europe carbon neutral by 2050. To facilitate a gradual transition, the EU must reduce its net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 55 % by 2030 from its 1990 levels. All industrial sectors and society, in general, will have to contribute to this endeavour, and the fisheries sector is no exception. This study sheds light on two fundamental aspects of EGD: the decarbonisation and the circular economy of European fisheries. This study presents the policy framework, successful examples, observed challenges and some policy recommendations.

Decarbonisation of fishing fleet

The decarbonisation of EU fisheries will be achieved by having fleets consuming less fuel, using alternative energy sources, while fishing sustainable fish stocks. Over 20 solutions are presented in this report as possibilities that could be applied by the fishing sector as part of its energy transition. Some of the solutions are targeting the (a) vessel’s strategy (e.g. how the fishing vessel is operated), others, (b) the vessel structure and onboard equipment, and (c) energy efficient fishing gear, and the last group (d) focuses on catchability.

Defining the energy and activity patterns of a vessel is key to start outlining the decarbonisation strategy for any vessel. Nowadays, however, the selection of a solution is often made blindfolded. Installing an energy monitoring device and conducting energy audits should be, therefore, the first step in this process because they provide accurate information on how energy is consumed onboard, by which equipment, and their share during navigation and fishing phases.

Other successful implementations include the reduction of navigation speed for vessels presenting long navigation distances in their trips, the use of low emission or hybrid engines, alternative fuels and antifouling coatings, or a bulbous bow.

In terms of efficient fishing gear, the use of rolling wheel for trawl shoes or the SumWing have proven to be successful for beam trawlers. In contrast, for otter bottom trawls, the use of lighter netting designs, semi-pelagic trawl doors or remotely controlled doors are mostly recommended.

Despite the diversity of solutions, not all of them are suitable for all vessels. Training is needed to facilitate this energy transition amongst fishers and other stakeholders, and mechanisms to improve the knowledge transfer.

Circular economy in fisheries

Circular economy in the fisheries sector has been mainly focused on solutions addressing fishing gear smart designs, innovative approaches to reduce the dumping of litter at sea, marine litter collection, and efficient recycling channels. While circular design of fishing gear has a lot of potential and a long way to go, it is still at an early stage.

In contrast, the development of initiatives that address the recovery, reuse, recycling and upcycling of marine litter and end of life (EOL) fishing gear has been more popular, and the results are already being applied involving the fashion industry, with major fashion brands starting to produce garments made from marine plastic or EOL fishing gear. This growing number of initiatives not only indicates a new market niche and a new production model, but also changes in society’s consumption pattern.

However, few circular examples applied to small-scale fisheries have been found, apart from engaging fisheries in active or passive fishing for litter (FFL) schemes, which aim at retrieving marine litter from the sea on a paid or voluntary basis. Port reception facilities should be improved across Europe, and local or regional management schemes for EOL fishing gear and marine litter are recommended to facilitate circular economy practices amongst the fishing sector and harmonise the approach towards a carbon neutral Europe.

Policy recommendations
The current implementation of decarbonisation solutions is on average very low in fisheries worldwide, also in the EU fisheries. To guarantee an effective energy transition and to start decarbonising the European fisheries sector, the following policy recommendations can be given.
  • Define a fisheries roadmap towards decarbonisation.
  • Revise EU’s definition of the term fishing capacity, because adding more GTs or kW does not necessarily increase a vessel’s ability to fish, and is a sine qua non condition for applying some of the energy efficiency solutions.
  • Embrace a simpler and more flexible processes for funding application for investment or installation of energy efficient solutions
  • Promote the implementation of a mixture of energy efficient solutions due to there is no ‘one-fit-all’ solution applicable to all fishing vessels and fishing modalities.
  • Promote the installation of energy monitoring devices in all fishing fleet segments.
  • Make the European Data Collection Framework include detailed data on energy consumption of fisheries reported by energy monitoring devices.
  • Encourage the inclusion of fishing vessels of different sizes in the energy efficiency policy framework of the IMO (MARPOL 73/78).
  • Establish a European cooperation platform to address energy efficiency in fisheries, exchange successful stories, promote dialogue and cooperation, and facilitate the transference of information and sustainability awareness.
  • Promote the development of seafood labels/eco-certifications incorporating the carbon footprint or Fuel Use Intensity (FUI) score of the fishery on food products.
Circular economy initiatives in the fisheries sector have been mainly focused on recycling of end of life (EOL) fishing gear and marine litter into garments or accessories. However, this is short-sighted as circular economy implies a wider consideration, which can promote job creation and additional income. Policy recommendations to implement circular economy in fisheries are:
  • Define sectoral roadmap to develop the circular economy in fisheries’ value chain.
  • Outline an agreed definition for circular fishing gear including targets for recycled content within the gear and associated legislation to enhance the design but also the implementation of circular gears onboard the fishing fleet.
  • Establish a standardised approach to mark and label the polymers and materials composing the fishing gear to facilitate its final recycling.
  • Define a standardised collection, sorting, conditioning and recycling scheme for EOL fishing gear and marine litter at European level. This implies: making port reception facilities for EOL fishing gears and marine litter ubiquitous in all European ports regardless their size; including this type of waste in established waste treatment streams; and adding the collection, conditioning, sorting and recycling of marine litter and EOL fishing gear as part of the service contracts of port waste managers, so that fishers would not have to pay an additional fee for the management of such waste.
  • Financially support programmes that promote the expansion of fishing for litter (FFL) schemes across Europe.
  • Set national minimum collection rates for marine litter and EOL fishing gear.
  • Develop a reporting system, which is appropriate for local fishers, to document the extent and location of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG), marine litter collected by FFL activities and EOL fishing gear discarded in port.
  • Establish an EPR scheme for fishing gear with financial schemes and support, and with defined responsibilities.
  • Establish mechanisms to improve the logistics associated with the full value chain for the recycling of marine litter and EOL fishing gear across Europe.
  • Improve the collaboration, cooperation, and dialogue amongst stakeholders and between and within regions to establish responsibilities regarding the management for these waste types.
  • Promote and finance research and innovation on circular economy in fisheries, e.g. circular design of gears, alternative management systems, conditioning and recycling technology, smart logistics, etc., by supporting pilot projects, and synergies between stakeholders (e.g. the fishing sector, businesses).
  • Incentivise the development of local circular solutions and projects embracing the cooperation and partnerships between actors of the fishing industry’s value chain, FLAGs, local waste managers, recycling companies and other entrepreneurs.
  • Promote the market for recycled fishing gear and marine litter by, for example, fostering the green procurement of marine plastic-derived products.
  • Promote the traceability of products made of marine plastic or other fishery-related wastes by, for example, establishing a label to define plastic of marine origin (link to digital product passport).
  • Increase awareness raising and training skills activities for reducing the marine litter contribution from fisheries and increase the participation in circular solution practices.
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