uk fishing marine

Efforts to decarbonise UK fishing sector hampered by restrictive licensing

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Efforts to switch the UK’s small-scale fishing fleet to electric or hybrid engines are being hampered by a restrictive licensing regime which is making decarbonisation of the sector more difficult, a report has found.

Alongside a broader UK target of net zero by 2050, the post-Brexit UK Fisheries Act was introduced in 2020 which set out a clear objective to address the climate impact of fisheries.

A new report from the University of Hull - 'Electrifying the Fleet' - has found that although technology exists for fishers to switch to a more efficient and sustainable system, current licensing systems which encourage the use of short, wide, fuel-inefficient boats are preventing the sector from using greener vessels.

Dr Magnus Johnson, senior lecturer at the University of Hull and lead author of the report, said: “Every sector has a role to play in transitioning to net zero, including the UK’s fishing fleet. Powering the UK's fishing fleet currently relies heavily on fossil fuel. Our report presents new findings and a route forward to decarbonise the sector.

“We visited three areas with very different fleet characteristics, Devon, Yorkshire and Orkney, concentrating on the smaller vessels. The level of interest amongst skippers was very high and several had been investigating the possibility of going electric already.

“The recent spike in fuel prices was coupled with concerns about the impact of climate change on the industry. We then used information from the skippers about their operating costs, along with data from the Marine Management Organisation, to work out what the potential costs and benefits of alternative propulsion systems on small-scale boats could be.”

The report found that technology to reduce harmful fuel use and cut emissions already exists and many fishers have shown interest in switching to a more sustainable hybrid system if it’s affordable.

The report also found that port infrastructure would also need to be modernised to meet increased demand for power. Furthermore, financial support from government would be required to assist fishers with the capital cost of switching to lower carbon propulsion systems.

It recommends that the government should fund and encourage research into the development of low-carbon propulsion systems that are suitable for small-scale fisheries and that harbour authorities should consider allowing for future electrification needs when conducting routine infrastructure works and upgrades; for example, if installing new trunking in a pier, it should be sized for larger cables.

A spokesperson for the Future Fisheries Alliance (FFA), which collaborated on the report, said: “Using this report to inform ambitious policies and investment from UK governments, we have the opportunity to ensure food security while achieving our climate and nature commitments.”

In September 2021, the UK shipping industry called for the global shipping sector to pursue a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, doubling the pace of ambitions laid out by the International Maritime Organisation.

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