Fishing practices adapted in commercial fisheries: review

Comprehensive literature review on the specific interventions taken in Scotland, the UK and EU to reduce the climate related impacts of the marine wild capture fisheries sector complemented with a series of stakeholder interviews on direct experiences and challenges.

Gaps and Recommendations

This section sets out the key gaps and recommendations that have been identified during the literature review. This section is also informed by feedback received in the stakeholder consultation exercise. All gaps identified are in relation to actions taken within Scottish fisheries that could be mitigating the sector's impact on climate change are summarised below.

There are several areas, where there is evidence of initiatives within Scottish fisheries to mitigate the sector's impact on climate change. These have been described above and include actions such as: fishing vessel re-engining, changing propellers and gearboxes, and the prohibition of certain refrigerants (see Section 2.2 above). Despite this, quantitative data and information relating to these initiatives and their efficacy are relatively scant within the public domain. Therefore, it is recommended that for such initiatives, especially those funded through governmental organisations, their effects on mitigating the impacts of climate change should be monitored and outcomes utilised to enhance future policy development within Scotland.

Comparing the range of measures already undertaken within Scotland with those in the UK and EU, there are a range of gaps in the uptake of measures to support the Scottish Government in setting targets for mitigating climate effects on its fisheries. These gaps are listed below, and encompass measures to reduce fossil fuel consumption, the use of alternative fuel, changes in gear selectivity, understanding how local markets may support targets, the reduction of waste, the use and understanding of different refrigerants, the management of Scottish stocks and understanding consumer behaviour. These are all detailed below.

Fossil fuel consumption

Public funding mechanisms, such as the "Fishing vessel energy improvements and re-engining grant"[42] as well as EMFF project descriptions show that re-engining and upgrading has taken place in Scotland. Despite this, it is relatively unclear whether the results from such projects have been collected and collated; certainly, there is no documentation in the public literature and no indication from stakeholder engagement, of the outcomes of such projects. This lack of public presentation of results, especially those funded by the Scottish Government, represents a major gap in information and understanding around the actions taken to reduce GHG emissions from the fisheries sector. It is therefore, important to ensure that such data is rigorously collected and then reported within the public literature to enhance understanding of the role that such actions play in impacting GHG emissions within the Scottish fishing industry.

Alternative fuel

The broad consensus within the available literature is that globally the use of a range of alternative fuels within the shipping industry is relatively new, with inherent logistic and economic difficulties in attaining both the technology needed to utilise such fuels, as well as the fuel, for commercial use. Due to this lack of availability of technology and fuel, the applicability of using alternative fuels within the shipping, as well as the fishing industry, is not at the required level to be considered for global use. In addition to such difficulties, there is a paucity of information in the literature on actions taken within Scotland to further utilise alternative fuels within the fisheries sector. Interviewing stakeholders within the sector did not yield significant additional data, information or examples. There is a need to further understand whether the wider Scottish fishing sector has undertaken any steps in switching to alternative fuel, and if so what the outcomes of such steps have been. Without this information it is difficult to determine the actions taken within Scotland to reduce GHG emissions from the fisheries sector in relation to the use of alternative fuel. Furthering the understanding of steps taken within the Scottish fishing fleet would make it possible to gauge the potential for the use of alternative fuels, as well as the potential strategies for rolling such technology out into the public domain for use in other industries.


There is clear evidence (predominantly from the EU) that optimisation of fishing gears and the use of selective gears can reduce GHG emissions and help to mitigate the wider impacts of climate change. Despite this understanding, and the wealth of information available to show the effects of such change, there are no examples from within Scotland where fishing gears or activities have been optimised to reduce GHG emissions. There is a direct need to support research to examine the GHG emissions associated with the range of fishing measures undertaken within Scotland. If projects are ongoing within Scotland to examine how changes in gear and activity may impact GHG emissions (despite this literature review being unable to identify such projects), there is a distinct need to rigorously determine the carbon footprint of the fisheries undertaken within Scotland, and the potential impact on such emissions of changes in gear or activity. For example, determining the potential role of more selective gears, different methods of steaming during or between fishing episodes, as well as new technology that reduces the weight and drag of gears while being used are all important factors to be examined within the Scottish fishing industry.

Local markets

There is a substantial lack of information, highlighted both in the literature, but also by stakeholders, in how the use of local markets may mitigate climate change impacts of fishing. Importantly, understanding what is being done to make use of local markets for the sale of fish and shellfish within Scotland and the UK could help identify where the promotion of these routes to market could be most effective. Effectively mapping such routes and determining how they impact the creation of GHG emissions will be a vital step in understanding how best to optimise transport routes for seafood within Scotland to reduce such emissions. Achieving a widespread understanding of postharvest transport routes and the creation of GHG emissions inherent in the use of such routes will require substantially improved data collection on the fuel usage of different transport providers, the frequency of such transport and the practices utilised to undertake such transport. Such information will form a good starting point from which to effectively optimise the transport of Scottish seafood, including how best to make use of local and regional transport providers, and better understand the role of local markets in effectively reducing potential GHG emissions.

Reducing waste

There is no clear evidence that efforts to reduce gear loss, or increase the functional lifespan of fishing gear, is taking place in Scotland. However, there is further need to undertake research and analysis of the range of efforts being made currently, including what additional measures could be undertaken to support the fishing industry in Scotland in reducing waste needs. This will help increase the understanding of what is feasible for policy makers and increase the potential options available to fishermen.


Refrigerants with the greatest global warming potential are regulated at a policy level within Scotland, and this represents an attempt to curb the contribution of refrigeration systems to increasing climate change. However, being able to identify where such changes in the use of refrigerants and refrigeration units occur within Scottish (and UK/EU) fisheries is extremely difficult. This is because changes in refrigeration systems within fishing businesses are ongoing, and predominantly form part of the basic business decisions being undertaken continually, weighing up the technology that is most economical/efficient against what is permitted at a policy level. As a result, such changes are rarely recorded in the literature, in public forums, and were not discussed in any depth within the stakeholder engagement in this project. Without this information it is difficult to determine further actions taken within Scotland to reduce GHG emissions from the fisheries sector in relation to the use of refrigerants.

There is a direct need to enhance the range of data being collected on the actions taken by industry to move away from prohibited refrigerants. Such information should cover upgrades to cold storage and ice making facilities on vessels and onshore facilities. This would provide policy makers verifiable data on the type of changes made as well as the reasons for making these changes such that it could inform future policy decisions with respect to refrigerants.

Stock resilience

The indicator for tracking the status of Scotland's commercial fish stocks[43] suggests that commercially fished stocks are improving overall and that there is evidence of sustainable fishing practices in many cases. However, findings of this literature review and feedback from the stakeholder consultation exercise suggest that more can be done to better manage Scotland's fish stocks and in doing so maximise their resilience to the effects of climate change. In addition, better scientific data for data deficient stocks in Scotland is needed to increase the understanding of where pressures (due to over-fishing) are potentially being experienced. Such analysis will enhance the understanding of the potential resilience of such stocks to the impacts of climate change. Findings could be acquired using modern surveys and updated stock assessments, as current data throughout the UK is considered outdated and lacking accuracy. One suggestion, highlighted during stakeholder engagement, is the need for earlier involvement of the fishing industry to understand and therefore be able to predict where potential changes in fishing activities (e.g., practices, gears) could affect the structure (and therefore resilience) of future stocks.

Consumer behaviour

Examples of actions taken to shift consumer behaviour in Scotland are available in the literature (e.g., promotion of the MSC by Marine Scotland; initiatives to educate the public about seafood sustainability; Seafood Scotland's strategy for Scotland's seafood industry). In addition, there are clear examples of how consumers favour eco-labelled 'sustainable' seafood, such as the premiums paid for eco-labelled fish and the fact that these products are less likely to be withdrawn from the shelves. There is, however, limited information available on the connection between consumer choices (e.g., purchasing eco-labelled seafood) and the associated fisheries GHG emission. Further data collection should be considered to underline the effect of changes in consumer behaviour in mitigating the impact of fisheries on climate change.

The gaps listed above highlight the limited information available to demonstrate progress towards mitigating the climate change related impacts of the fisheries sector within Scotland. Coordinated data collection and reporting is one strategy that could be utilised to fill many of these gaps (e.g., ensuring recipients of grants like the EMFF report their progress towards set targets). However, in order to maximise the efficacy of any data collection initiative it is useful to ensure two fundamentals are observed:

  • Wherever possible, baseline values should be provided to ensure that it is possible to interpret whether actions have led to improvement or deterioration in the fisheries sectors climate related impacts. For example, it is not possible to quantify changes in fishing gear functional lifespan without baseline information on the equivalent gears expected lifespan.
  • Targets, and indicators of progress towards them, should be aligned across the industry to ensure there is cohesion between the data reported. For example, if measuring effort to reduce ALDFG, should results be recorded as the number of pieces of gear removed, the volume of gear removed, or the weight of gear removed from the marine environment? One consistent metric for recording and reporting will help build the coherent database(s) necessary to effectively quantify change.

5.1 Ensure results are publicly available

Scotland and its fisheries are involved in many interventions that could reduce the sector's impact on climate change, but the results of these actions are not publicly available. This leads to limited understanding within the industry and with policy makers on the specific reasons for, and results of, adopting such changes. More transparency in data collection, as well as in the analysis and reporting of data would substantially help demonstrate to the industry the benefits of making changes (e.g., in providing reassurance to potential users on the reliability and potential for the utilisation of alternative fuels for use in the Scottish fishing fleet), while also increasing policy makers understanding of quantifiable outcomes.

In addition, demonstrating the value and efficacy of such changes could help drive a shift to more local consumption of Scottish seafood and help strengthen the positive feedback loop between production and consumption. Consumers sufficiently informed of the impact that fishing practices are having will be more able to effectively choose products with a more benign impact, incentivising best practice in seafood production and processing.

5.2 Licensing

Hull length to width ratio plays a major role in hull resistance, and in general increasing this ratio (i.e., greater length versus width) will reduce resistance (He et al., 2018) and therefore could act as a barrier to further reducing the fisheries sector's climate related impacts. Yet, due to UK and Scottish licencing systems, that rely on length-based fisheries management, there is currently an incentive to keep vessels below 10 m (Davies et al., 2018). This would suggest that policy and decision makers looking to reduce fishing vessel GHG emissions should incentivise vessels with an optimised length to width ratio.

As newer technology becomes available and is adopted, particularly driven by fuel price and environmental concerns, policy makers should be looking at ways to encourage adoption of those designs/ technologies which have been developed with the purpose of reducing GHG emissions within the fisheries sector but must remain mindful of balancing opportunity and fleet capacity within effort limits.

Consequently, a further review of the current licensing system would be beneficial, to better understand the impact current licensing is having on vessel fuel efficiency and to help identify the interplay between additional factors (e.g., how vessel stability is affected by with the length to width ratio).

5.3 Other

A common theme that is borne out in the stakeholder engagement exercise, across all themes, is the need for significantly more investment from Scottish Government to facilitate the changes needed to update or improve new fishing vessels/components where the primary aim is to decrease emissions.



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