Spatial constraints caused by Brexit reveal a worrying increase in the carbon footprint of the fishing fleet

Spatial constraints caused by Brexit reveal a worrying increase in the carbon footprint of the fishing fleet

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Due to the exclusion of the Norwegian fleet from UK fishing grounds, ships have been forced to reach areas where fishing is less efficient. The catch per fishing trip was reduced by almost half, resulting in a doubling of the number of trips per vessel. As a result, the fuel used per kilo of mackerel has doubled. Credit: Ruhr Bjanesoy / Norges Seldisalgslag

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Due to the exclusion of the Norwegian fleet from UK fishing grounds, ships have been forced to reach areas where fishing is less efficient. The catch per fishing trip was reduced by almost half, resulting in a doubling of the number of trips per vessel. As a result, the fuel used per kilo of mackerel has doubled. Credit: Ruhr Bjanesoy / Norges Seldisalgslag

In a study published in Maritime policyResearchers have uncovered striking evidence that fisheries management decisions such as spatial restrictions on fisheries can increase greenhouse gas emissions.

The study, conducted by a team of scientists led by postdoctoral researcher Kim Scherer at the University of Bergen, highlights the unexpected consequences of policy changes on fishing fleets and their carbon footprint.

In the North Atlantic, international agreements often allow fleets to track fish across national borders. This allows anglers to catch fish in the most efficient locations. But when the UK left the EU (Brexit), the Norwegian mackerel fishing fleet was suddenly excluded from UK fishing grounds.

Using Brexit as a natural experiment, the researchers used open fisheries data to uncover the consequences for Norwegian mackerel fisheries. The results reveal an alarming shift in fisheries performance and carbon emissions due to changes in fishing practices.


How could Brexit double the carbon footprint of Norway’s mackerel fishery? This video explains the results of a new study on fisheries emissions and zoning restrictions, conducted by researchers at the University of Bergen, RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden) and Fiskebåt. Credit: Espen Vike (Studio Vike) and CCO Music: “Final Thoughts” by Apex Music (Upppbeat.io)

Due to the exclusion of the Norwegian fleet from UK fishing grounds, ships have been forced to reach areas where fishing is less efficient. The catch per fishing trip was reduced by almost half, resulting in a doubling of the number of trips per vessel. As a result, the fuel used per kilo of mackerel has doubled.

Because of this change, an additional 23 million liters of fuel are needed every year, at an additional cost of about 18 million euros. This also released an additional 72,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide2 in the air annually. The area restriction thus reversed about 15 years of progress in fuel efficiency in pelagic fisheries in Norway.

“This small change in fisheries regulations inadvertently caused an increase in annual carbon dioxide2 “Emissions amount to half a million return trips within the EU,” Scherer said, stressing the need to consider emissions in fisheries management. “It is important that governments that signed the Paris Agreement avoid wasteful emissions like this.”

The study emphasizes that policymakers and managers need to consider fuel efficiency trade-offs in marine spatial management, ensuring a balance between conservation efforts, other marine industries, and minimizing carbon footprints.

more information:
Kim J. N. Scherer et al., Spatial constraints have inadvertently doubled the carbon footprint of the Norwegian mackerel fishing fleet, Maritime policy (2024). doi: 10.1016/j.marpol.2024.106014

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