Ending fuel subsidies and limiting some fishing gear should be introduced to help the industry tackle its impact on climate change, according to a new report from WWF, RSPB and the Marine Conservation Society.
The report, Switching Gears: Achieving Climate Smart Fisheries, claims that it shows that we must address the environmental impacts of fisheries, or risk derailing the UK’s climate and nature recovery goals.
The study from the group of environmental organisations says the UK and Scottish Government must help the fleet to modernise, however, the industry says its carbon emissions are ‘tiny’ compared to other sectors.
The report released today claims that UK fisheries emit around the same energy over a year as powering 110,000 homes.
It has called for limiting the use of ‘bottom towed’ fishing gear that the report states disturbs the carbon that is captured on the seabed and by marine life.
The report says that the UK already has world-leading legislation in place to modernise the UK fishing sector in the form of the UK Fisheries Act, 2020. The Act sets out a clear objective to address the climate impact of fisheries, but action is yet to be taken.
Mario Ray from WWF Scotland said: “This report makes clear governments across all four nations must help UK fisheries to re-think practices and modernise to meet the challenge of climate change and achieving net zero.
“While the Scottish Government has responsibility for 61% of the UK’s seas, and around 60% of all the UK’s fish is landed here, its current Future Fisheries Management Strategy fails to clearly set out the role the fishing industry will play in reaching our net zero commitments.”
The report, ‘Shifting Gears – achieving climate-smart fisheries,’ calls for an end to fuel subsidies that are currently in place for the sector.
It states: “This would increase fuel costs for fisheries which is expected to reduce overcapacity and actively help move UK fisheries away from fuel intensive fishing gear types such as bottom towed dredgers and trawlers, towards more low emission methods.”
The findings in the report states that fisheries emit greenhouse gases by:
- Damaging marine environments – fisheries can damage the ocean’s capacity to store greenhouse gases, preventing it from acting as a carbon sink. Some fishing gear destroys carbon-rich habitats like seagrass meadows and muddy sediments. Of fish landed by UK vessels, approximately 87% is caught using a mixture of beam and demersal trawl, dredgers and seine nets – all of which are gears which have a direct impact on the seabed and blue carbon sinks.
- Destabilising fish stocks – Fishing beyond sustainable levels simply takes too much from the ocean. This destabilises the marine environment and undermines its potential as a carbon sink.
- Directly from fishing vessels – globally, a staggering 207 million tonnes of CO2 is released into the atmosphere every year by fishing vessels – equivalent to 51 coal-fired power plants. The UK fishing fleet represents part of the problem, with over 50% of vessels aged 30 years old or more, and the vast majority powered by fossil fuels.
However, the industry has reinforced the message that it takes its responsibility to tackle climate change seriously and it is already modernising.
The environmental groups say that more must be done to enforce Marine Protected Areas and monitoring of boats.
They also want more climate change objectives in any future and current fishing regulation.
Alex Kinninmonth, from RSPB Scotland said: “This report offers a roadmap for fisheries managers to meet climate targets while safeguarding our seas for future generations.
“Ahead of crucial climate and nature COPs and with a Joint Fisheries Statement by all four governments of the UK due, now is the crucial moment to commit to and deliver an ambitious ‘climate-smart’ strategy to future proof our fisheries and revive our world.”
Gareth Cunningham, Head of Fisheries and Aquaculture: “We need a modern approach to how we source our seafood; not just to address the dual climate and nature crises, but to ensure that sustainable seafood is an integral part of the UK food system.
“Change is never easy. But realising the benefits of climate-smart fishing is vital to restoring our marine environment, providing a healthy source of protein and a future for the industry that supplies it.”
The report state that in order to make fishing climate smart, the industry needs to:
- reduce pressure from fishing gears like trawls and dredges by incentivising a move to less damaging fishing methods such as bottom longlines;
- increase transparency and traceability across UK fishing industry to improve understanding of impact of fishing and aid stock recovery. This could be achieved by mandating the installation of Remote Electronic Monitoring systems with CCTV cameras across the UK fleet to provide a true picture of catch levels and data to improve management;
- ban bottom towed gear to protect and enable recovery of blue carbon habitats within existing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) designated for seabed features, as well as limiting towed gear in important blue carbon sites outside current MPAs;
- create incentives to decarbonise the UK fishing fleet and eliminate inefficient fleet structures, for example by ending fossil fuel subsidies and encouraging fishers to move to electric and solar powered vessels.
The report claims that ahead of COP26 in November, the UK Government must act now with decisive, radical action to overhaul the UK’s fishing fleet to become ‘climate smart’.
The full report can be read by clicking here.