Pelagic freezer trawler association

The 140 metre ‘Maartje Theodora’ owned by Parlevliet & van der Plas & Pelagic Freezer-Trawler Association member

The Pelagic Freezer-Trawler Association (PFA) has challenged a Greenpeace investigation into the relationship between pelagic fisheries by freezer-trawlers and UK Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

The PFA claim that MPAs cause additional pressure on fisheries in other areas and that marine biodiversity would be better served by expanding effective fisheries management.

Greenpeace has claimed that pelagic trawlers are damaging to the natural environment and should be banned from operating in such areas. 

Reacting to Greenpeace the PFA created the questions and answers below.

  1. Pelagic trawlers are destructive for the nature conservation values of MPAs and these vessels should be banned from fishing in MPAs. 

Almost all offshore MPAs around the British Isles are primarily designated to protect seabed habitats. Only a few MPAs are designated to protect species, in particular harbour porpoises. None are designated to protect pelagic fish species. 

Members of the PFA operate their pelagic trawlers outside the 12 miles zone and target pelagic species such as herring and mackerel who do not live or dwell on or in or close to the seabed. On the contrary, pelagic fishes form shoals that live and migrate in the water column. Pelagic fisheries are therefore usually exempted from the protection measures that apply in MPAs. Also in the UK. Pelagic fisheries are legally allowed in these MPAs. 

  1. Pelagic fisheries is the main threat to harbour porpoises dying in nets in UK waters 

According to the NGO Whale and Dolphin Conservation static gillnets are the biggest threat to harbour porpoises in UK waters . This is a passive gear that either hangs in the water or is placed on the seabed for hours or days, catching any creature that swims into them. 

In the pelagic fisheries by PFA members the bycatch is not more than 1%, which is among the lowest by-catch percentages in the entire fishing industry (worldwide).

Bycatch of harbour porpoises on PFA vessels has not been reported, not by official observers nor by our own reporting schemes.

Pelagic freezer trawler association

The Parlevliet & Van der Plas owned 96 metre Dirk Dirk. Photo: Marcel Koster

  1. Supertrawlers spent 2963 hours fishing in UK Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in 2019, the equivalent of 123 days. 

The reported amount of hours spent in UK MPAs by pelagic trawlers might be a reflection of the reality but PFA vessels are pelagic freezer-trawlers and exercise exactly the same fisheries with the same gear size and gear type as pelagic trawlers under the flag of the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Norway etc. The size of pelagic freezer-trawlers is larger because this type of vessel has a freezing plant plus a cold storage capacity on board (see also under 7). 

As pelagic fishing is allowed in the MPAs around the British Isles, because this fishery does not interfere with the nature values to be protected by the MPAs, the amount of hours/days fished in these MPAs is irrelevant. 

Supertrawler is a suggestive terminology. 

  1. Supertrawlers are freezer trawlers of over 100m in length. They can catch hundreds of tons of fish every day using nets up to a mile long. 

The daily catch quantity by pelagic trawlers is indeed quite possible. These catch quantities must however be seen in the context that pelagic stocks are very large, much larger than demersal stocks (= species living in, at or close to the seabed). Because pelagic stocks are abundant the allowed quota are also large in size. 

Example 1: the size of the North Sea/Channel herring stock is currently 1.4 million metric tons. The allowed quota in 2020 is 385,000 metric tons. 

Example 2: the size of the blue whiting stock is 4.3 million metric tons. The allowed quota of blue whiting in 2020 is 1.16 million metric tons. 

Both stocks are well assessed by science. This applies to the major pelagic stocks targeted by PFA vessels. PFA members respect the EU TAC & quota system. 

All catches are within quota and based on scientific advice. The major part of our pelagic catches in the North Sea and the NE Atlantic has been certified under the MSC label (gold standard seafood sustainability). 

North Sea Herring has been certified since 2006.  

Pelagic freezer trawler association

The Parlevliet & Van der Plas owned 142 metre Margiris

  1. The science is clear that fully protected MPAs are significantly better for restoring fish stocks and ensuring resilience, with biomass several hundred times higher in areas that have this kind of protection. 

This relevance of MPAs for restoring fish stocks is still very much subject in the international debate on MPAs. Pelagic stocks are by nature widely migratory and therefore MPAs are not the logical management tool for restoring pelagic stocks. 

As proven by a recent study, one of the largest no-take MPAs declared in 2010 in the Indian Ocean (640,000 km2, the size of France) has shown no evidence of any ‘spillover’ improvement in associated tuna stocks. Also there are recent examples of large MPAs like Palau’s marine sanctuary (the size of Spain) that backfired leading to increased consumption of reef fish . 

In fact, scientists voiced MPAs to be no silver bullet and that only with other fishery management regulations and wider regional processes true conservation and management benefits for fish species can be reached, given their high mobility. 

  1. Pelagic freezer trawlers disturb the water column with catches in such large volumes and should not have any place in a protected area. 

Pelagic (freezer) trawlers target large dense shoals of the same fish. It is an accepted fact to be a very clean fishery. This is easily verified with fisheries scientists (ICES or CEFAS). The overall bycatch figure for the PFA fleet is less than 1%. 

Apart from this and on a different subject the members of the PFA have decided to use for precautionary reasons the latest generation of pingers (acoustic deterrent devices) in our fisheries to avoid potential bycatch of cetaceans in the areas west of Scotland and Ireland and in the Channel and Biscay area.  Trawler photo

  1. Pelagic vessels of 100 meter or more are different (or even far worse) than other pelagic trawlers. 

Pelagic fishing by trawlers is exercised through basically two different business concepts. Yet the fisheries by both types of vessels use exactly the same type and size of nets/ gears and acoustic equipment and are therefore equally sustainable. 

The PFA operate pelagic freezer-trawlers for which the business concept is to catch fish and to immediately after catch freeze the fish on board whole-frozen. The amount of fish to be caught is limited by the freezing capacity of the sorting and freezing plant on board. Depending on the vessel this is between max 100 and 300 tons per 24 hours. The size of this type of vessel is larger because of the onboard production plant and large cold storage facility: about 10% of the vessel is related to fishing/catching, 20% for processing/freezing and 50% for storing the frozen fish (the remainder is for engine room, crew cabins and bridge). 

The size of the PFA vessels is between 55 and 140 meter and the fishing trip can take between 2 and 5 weeks. The size of the PFA vessels is related to the fact that they freeze and store the fish at sea immediately after catching. The storage capacity of the small freezer trawlers is 600 tons and the largest freezer trawlers is 6,000tons (to check). 

The PFA fleet consists of 16 vessels.

Pelagic freezer trawler association

The Cornelis Vrolijk owned 119 metre Frank Bonefaas. Photo: Joost J. Baker

Non PFA companies, such the UK/Scottish, Irish, Danish, Swedish, Faroe, Icelandic and Norwegian pelagic fishing vessels (RSW), have chosen for a concept where you catch the fish and land it fresh to be processed and frozen in land-based processing plants, or to be produced fish meal factories for animal feed. These pelagic fishing vessels are so called RSW trawlers and purse seiners. Their fishing trips take 2-5 days just to keep the fish as fresh as possible. These vessels are still large but a bit smaller (between 50- 80 meter) because they do not have a processing plant nor a large coldstore facility on board. Their catches in these 2 to 5 days amount to 1,000 to 2,000 tons, depending the size of the vessel. So, RSW vessels can catch much more fish in the same timeframe, because of their different business concept. There are many RSW trawlers who catch annually similar quota volumes or more than the largest pelagic freezer trawlers of the PFA. 

The total RSW pelagic fleet is estimated at around 200 vessels. 

  1. Support for increasing MPAs to 30% by 2030 ocean protection target, including supporting the goal of 30% of UK waters fully or highly protected by 2030 will improve overall ocean health. 

This assumption is still widely debated in international gremia and on EU level.

MPAs and area closures in general, do not reduce fishing effort, but move it elsewhere. Effort displacement has long been recognized as a direct result of MPA establishment or closed areas. If the threat to an area is overfishing, reducing fishing pressure through management is the answer, because MPAs do not reduce, but relocate fishing pressure.

There is a growing insight among scientists that both biodiversity and food security are better served by expanding effective fisheries management and not by focusing on the establishment of more marine sanctuaries. 

  1. Support for increasing MPAs to 30% by 2030 ocean protection target, including supporting the goal of 30% of UK waters fully or highly protected by 2030 will improve overall ocean health. 

Why single out PFA freezer-trawlers (they are the only ones larger than 100 meters)? There are far more non-freezing RSW trawlers fishing in the same manner on the exact same fishing grounds (including the MPAs) targeting the exact same pelagic species. 

Some of the PFA trawlers are maybe ‘super’ in size, but not in catching capacity per day compared to RSW vessels, and their fishing gears have similar size as RSW-vessels.


The Pelagic Freezer-Trawler Association challenges Greenpeace

by editor time to read: 10 min