Loran Norwegian Hydrogen boat Square

Now is the time to deliver a new era for Scotland’s fishing fleet

ROCKETING ENERGY PRICES, exacerbated by the illegal war in Ukraine, have hit people and businesses across the UK, especially those that are highly dependent on energy, such as the fisheries and aquaculture sectors. In 2022, the hike in marine-diesel prices more than doubled compared to 2021, causing surging operational costs for our fishing fleet and rising seafood prices for consumers.

In Scotland, the parts of the fleet that rely heavily on fuel, like the scallop dredgers and whitefish and prawn trawlers, have been hardest hit, leaving many fishers facing economic ruin. The impact on fisheries and aquaculture has been severe, threatening the social, economic, and environmental sustainability of the sector. Given the current uncertain geopolitical context, energy prices are expected to remain both high and volatile, forcing fishers to search for ways to reduce fossil fuel dependency and move to new, environmentally sustainable, low carbon energy sources as quickly as possible.

At present, most fishing vessels rely on marine diesel for their operations, although smaller vessels may use petrol. Even fish farms have to rely heavily on diesel to power service vessels. Scotland’s fishers are now desperately looking for innovative fishing techniques and gears that are more energy efficient and have the least possible negative impact on the marine environment.

New vessel designs, that include wind-assisted or solar-electric propulsion, together with the adoption of energy-efficient on-board equipment, are being actively examined, to further increase energy efficiency and reduce costs. Research into low-carbon fuels for fishing vessels, including electricity, ammonia, methanol, hydrogen, sustainable biogas, and synthetic fuels, is also underway. Where possible, fishers are examining if existing engines can be modified. In some parts of the fleet the acquisition of new low-carbon-emission (hybrid) engines and vessels may be the solution, although it is recognised there are major financial constraints on an industry that is reeling from the impact of spiralling costs and falling income.

Scotland’s fishers are also being encouraged to significantly increase their energy efficiency by adapting the type of fishing gear they use, switching to using tackle that has a lower drag force, or even modifying the hull of their vessel, for example by retrofitting a bulbous bow. The biggest contributors to drag and to energy consumption are the nets and trawl doors used and fuel efficiency can be greatly improved by correctly matching the vessel and equipment to the prevailing conditions and target fishery. Fishers also know that hull maintenance can play a significant role in fuel savings. A dirty hull, or even poorly finished paintwork, can be like driving a car with the handbrake on, and can eat into fuel costs.

Although there have been great strides in developing alternative fuels and propulsion systems for other types of marine vessels like cargo ships and even cruise liners, to date there has been limited uptake of these systems by fishing and aquaculture vessels. Last year, naval architects and engineers at the Norwegian company Skipsteknisk, designed one of the first hydrogen-powered fishing vessels, the 70-meter Norwegian longliner, Loran. While the vessel still has conventional diesel engines, it is also powered by two large hydrogen fuel cells and a huge battery bank.

Photo above: the 70-meter Norwegian longliner Loran will have multiple propulsion options — diesel and electric power to the main propeller, as well as a retractable azimuth propeller in the bow.

Of course, ports and harbours, as key providers for our fleet, will have to adapt to service such new adaptations and once again that will require major financial investment. Currently, the lack of appropriate infrastructure for vessels using alternative fuels like ammonia or methanol, and for electric vessels that need charging points, makes it unfeasible to adopt such new propulsion technologies.

There is also the problem that much of the Scottish fishing fleet is relatively old, creating technological barriers. Installing new, heavy equipment on such vessels can cause safety issues, especially on smaller craft. Alternative propulsion systems that may require more space on board, can cause issues with vessel stability, or can reduce the vessel’s range.

These barriers, together with the high cost of new energy-efficient technologies, are slowing down the modernisation of Scotland’s fleet. This, combined with the relatively stagnant revenues of most vessels, has hampered private investment in the sector. Given that most aquaculture companies in Scotland are relatively small enterprises, the same barriers apply to the adoption of cost-efficient energy-management systems in fish farms and aquaculture-service vessels.

The limited availability of commercially viable alternative energy sources and fuels also holds back the adoption of new propulsion technologies. If we are going to further develop the investment landscape, we will need to find ways of attracting new venture capital to the sector, which is in turn essential for the sector-wide uptake of transition to a modern, low carbon fishing fleet. A new approach is needed to stimulate investment in recharging and refuelling infrastructure in our ports and harbours and to help to modernise our fleet. There needs to be strong, upfront cooperation among all stakeholders, including the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, shipbuilders, ports and harbours, scientists, ocean-based renewable-energy systems and producers, the waterborne transport sector and alternative energy systems. This cooperation will make it possible to harness the full potential of both the production and use of renewable and low-carbon energy and the deployment of innovative compatible technology.

Funding for this new, ground-breaking programme should come from the Westminster government’s innovative Regional Growth Deals, which has successfully cemented regional partnership between local authorities and the private sector.

Plans for ‘Growth Deals 2.0’ are now in the pipeline. Scotland’s fisheries and aquaculture sectors should get their foot in the door to ensure that combined funding from both Westminster and Holyrood will pump-prime private sector investment in the industry.

Now that the SNP-Green government at Holyrood has had the sense to ditch its controversial Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) proposal to ban fishing from 10 per cent of our national waters, we need some dynamic new plans for a low-emission sustainable future. SNP politicians say they want Scotland to be “a world class fishing nation delivering responsible and sustainable fisheries management.” They need to put their money where their mouth is.

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Images courtesy of Skipsteknisk.


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