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University of Hull study calls for Government action to help decarbonise UK's fishing fleet

Switching the UK's small-scale fishing fleet to electric or hybrid engines will contribute to the UK's target of net zero by 2050, as well as yield significant savings in operating costs, a new report has found.

The report, Electrifying the Fleet, by the University of Hull, considers the availability of electric and hybrid systems as well as the costs of conversion or implementation and estimates the fuel savings that are possible.

The report says, 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 a green route forward.

It was developed in Collaboration with the RSPB, WWF and Marine Conservation Society (The Future Fisheries Alliance), as well as the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) and North Sea Wildlife Trusts.

dr magnus johnson in scuba gear
Dr Magnus Johnson

Dr Magnus Johnson, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Marine Science 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 UKs 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.”

Dr Magnus Johnson

Some of the reports main findings include:

  • Technology to reduce harmful fuel use and cut emissions already exists today, and many fishers have shown interest in switching to a more sustainable hybrid system if it's affordable.
  • The current licensing system encourages the use of fuel-inefficient, short, wide boats. If updated to focus less on length we could see significant energy and emissions reductions.
  • To meet our climate commitments, improvements in battery technology, or alternative fuels using renewable energy, will be most likely to lead the way. Port infrastructure will need to be modernised to meet increased demand for power.
  • There isn’t a one size fits all model and solutions will vary from one location to another.

The report concludes that Financial support from government will be required to assist fishers with the capital cost of switching to lower carbon propulsion systems.

It also recommends 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), said: “The FFA were pleased to collaborate with the NFFO, University of Hull and the North Sea Wildlife Trusts in gathering and presenting this vital information on a pathway to decarbonise the fishing sector helping the UK to reach net zero. “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.”

Read the full report here: Electrifying the Fleet

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