Norwegian fishermen have always chosen to catch the most important species in intense seasons. Will reducing greenhouse gas emissions affect seasonal patterns?

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Through signing the Paris Agreement and establishing the Climate Change Act, Norway is committed to halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. One of the most important sources of greenhouse gas emissions is food production. Although the seafood industry has a good starting point, climate measures must also be taken in the fisheries. 

“Most greenhouse gas emissions in the fisheries are produced by fuel consumption from catch operations. Having to halve emissions will therefore affect the seasonal pattern of the fleet,” says research director and business economist Bent Dreyer. 

Fuel is one of the largest operating costs of a fishing vessel.  

“Consumption is at a minimum during seasons where catches have a high market value and are caught with high catch rates on fishing grounds that are located close to buyers. In other words; The Paris Agreement reinforces the incentives for seasonal catches from our most important stocks”, says Dreyer. 

Developments in vessel and catch technology or structuring of catch operations do not seem to have reduced the tendency to fill quotas in the shortest possible time.  

“There are fewer and bigger catches in the season. Nor do annual quota fluctuations have a significant impact on the seasonal pattern,” says the research director. 

Many attempts to change the catch pattern 

Attempts have been made in fisheries policy to develop management schemes that reduce seasonal fluctuations. There has been a strong belief that fishing industry companies can achieve this by gaining control over catch operations.  

“Some onshore facilities have therefore been granted an exemption from the Participation Act to own fishing vessels, hoping that this will contribute to changing the current catch pattern. However, years of arguing over this scheme indicate that the good intentions have not yielded the desired results”, says Dreyer. 

Another approach has been to use quotas to motivate fishermen to change their catch patterns. Here, too, the conclusion is that the effect is not as great as desired.  

Today’s fragile quota distribution principles may have to give way to distribution keys that emphasise greenhouse gas emissions more strongly than historical fishing rights. 

“Perhaps we will find ourselves in a situation where a vessel is unable to fill its fishing quotas because it has used too much of its emission quotas too early. This will make it necessary to establish a market where both greenhouse gas and fishing quotas can be exchanged. For example, a vessel that has filled its fishing quotas and still has a lot left of its climate quota can either rent extra fishing quotas or loan out its greenhouse gas quotas,” he says.  

Fish are not governed by politics 

Nofima’s models of why we have seasonal fisheries and what affects fishing fleet energy consumption can help develop framework conditions based on the following principles: 

  • Manage stocks well – high biomass results in high catch rates. 
  • Prioritise species that give high value and low energy consumption. 
  • Catch during periods of the year that give high catch rates and high quality. 
  • Catch close to the shore. 

“All these factors are about adapting catches to biology and migration patterns that cannot be controlled by politics,” says Bent Dreyer. 

Even though the fish cannot be controlled, the industry’s technology choices can be influenced. The choice of fishing gear and vessel design affects greenhouse gas accounts. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Dreyer recommends fishing gear that gives high catch rates, high raw material quality and is energy efficient. 

“The choice of vessel design is also important. Greenhouse gas emissions are lowest in vessels that are easily run, have high load capacity and are not powered by fossil fuels,” says Dreyer. 

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