Delaying investment in net zero fishing vessels is a risky strategy, according to a new report we commissioned.

The study by Macduff Ship Design explains that net zero fuels are currently no match for diesel-powered fishing vessels, but failing to invest in this technology and the associated safety, training and infrastructure now could leave fleets unviable sooner than expected.

Naval Architect Duncan Boag reviewed three existing diesel fishing vessels to see if a new ‘net zero’ vessel using alternative fuels, power systems and drivetrains could replicate their capabilities. With help from Exeter University’s Centre for Future Clean Mobility, phase 2 of the study will go on to produce concept designs for these vessels utilising the most promising options. These concepts will help us understand the technical, regulatory and financial barriers preventing the uptake of new technology by the UK fishing industry.

“None of the alternative fuels we have reviewed can be stored as space efficiently as diesel. They all having more complicated tank, piping and safety requirements which use more space onboard. In most cases to match the operation of an existing diesel vessel the new design will have to be larger – potentially significantly increasing capital costs. This coupled with the current high cost and low availability of alternative fuels and equipment means that the first net zero vessels are unlikely to be commercially competitive compared to existing diesel vessels.”

“With government net zero targets two decades away, it might seem an attractive option to stick with diesel vessels and worry about it when the deadline arrives. While an understandable view point it is a very risky approach! It would be catastrophic for the industry if, by these deadlines, many fishing vessels are not compliant with net zero legislation and are therefore prevented from operating. Failure to invest also risks that other industries push technology and infrastructure in a direction that is unsuitable for fishing vessels and we become constrained to these options and have to make more significant compromises on design and operation. ” Duncan Boag.

Professor Christopher Smith, Director of the Centre for Future Clean Mobility, is worried that skippers might have to find workable alternatives to diesel sooner than expected. He said,

“Diesel sales in the UK are dominated by road cars, and that demand is going to fall rapidly in the next few years. In 4-5 years’ time UK diesel sales could have dwindled to 30% of today’s demand. I can’t help but think this will affect both fishing vessel diesel fuel prices and availability.”

“Getting MCA approval to use alternative fuels is difficult right now, and even getting sufficient data to start the approvals process is very tricky. We are starting a project later this year, funded by the Regulators’ Pioneer Fund, to develop regulations for a new class of vessel – a prototype vessel – and MCA is a partner in this. We expect in two years’ time there will be a route for new propulsion systems to get to sea for testing, to open the door for full classification approval. We are looking for fishing businesses to join a user panel for this project.”

“A lack of cross-sector planning and support could have a serious impact on the viability of UK fishing fleets. This was the message loud and clear from FIS‘ Vessels of the Future workshop last year – we must start addressing this properly in 2023. The challenges aren’t unique to one fleet or even one nation, so it’s fitting that this report is our first with FIS’ new name and remit, supporting the seafood industry across the UK.” Kara Brydson, FIS Executive Director.

Phase 2 of this project, to develop detailed concept designs using power data taken directly from fishing vessels, is supported by the Marine Fund Scotland and will complete in Spring 2023.