Decarbonisation of the fishing fleet in the Mediterranean and Black Sea

Start decarbonization journey in fisheries · Track carbon emissions · Visualize emission hotspots · Foster collaboration · Work across the harvesting chain

  • Framework Contract for the provision of scientific advice for the Mediterranean and the Black Sea
  • Specific contract nr. 07
  • Specific Project coordinator: Antonello Sala (CNR, Italy)
  • Duration: 24 months
  • Contracting Authority
  • Responsibility for the management of actions
  • Ensure delivery of quality results and performance of the projects/studies/contracts


  • Policy Development
  • Adopt EMFAF Work Programmes
  • Evaluate EMFAF programme implementation

Background and justification

The European Commission’s 2022 communication calls for the EU fisheries and aquaculture sector to reduce fossil fuel use in line with the 2050 carbon neutrality goal. Profit losses in 2022 due to high fuel prices underscore the economic benefits of decarbonization. Solutions range from immediate gear modifications to long-term structural changes and alternative fuels, aiming for energy efficiency and sustainability. While viable technologies exist, actual implementation across the EU remains slow. The Commission’s plan focuses on increasing energy efficiency and transitioning to renewable energy, essential for the sector’s sustainable future.

In February 2022 the European Commission published a Communication on the Energy Transition of the EU Fisheries and Aquaculture sector (Communication COM(2023) 100, 2023). 

This communication highlights the high dependency of the sector on the use of fossil fuels. In the context of the European Green Deal, it is important that the fishing fleet is given solutions to reduce such dependency and move to renewable and low-carbon energy sources as quickly as possible to reach carbon neutrality in the EU by 2050. The conclusions of the informal meeting of Fisheries Ministers (17-18 July 2023) identified decarbonization of fishing fleets as a clear priority.

In addition to the obvious benefits of decarbonisation in environmental terms, it is also important to underline that a decreased dependency on fossil fuels will also inevitably bring more profitability. It is estimated that the EU fishing fleet’s net profits dropped from EUR +218 million in 2021 to EUR -430 million in 2022, a severe decrease as the result of the soaring fuel prices. Accordingly, decarbonisation results in decreasing the fleets’ vulnerability to fossil fuel price variations.

In March 2023, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) held its first workshop on the decarbonisation of the fishing industry. The workshop allowed to identify short-, medium-, and long-term solutions to the decarbonisation. Short terms solutions included the improvement of data collection for fuel consumption, the launch of pilot projects for the testing of new gear or yet the implementation of socio-economic analyses to evaluate the impact of decarbonisation of the fisheries industry. 

On the medium-term, the workshop envisaged the creation of a regional platform for the exchange of best practices or the mapping of fuel consumption baselines in the regions by area and gear. Regarding long-term decarbonisation solutions the workshop explored the possibility of structural modification in the vessels and the use of alternative fuels. The workshop recognised the growing interest within the sector in innovation to improve the decarbonisation of fisheries through the adoption of easy-to-implement changes in gear materials, light trawling doors, as well as changes in fishing behaviour (e.g. reduction of speed of vessels) suitable for different fisheries and vessels. As expressed above, a variety of decarbonisation and ‘win-win’ solutions are to be explored on the short-term.

Sala et al. (2022) conducted a study on energy audits and the carbon footprint of the trawling industry. Introducing their study, it is explained that, as the consumption of fossil fuels is considered one of the principles causes of climate change, the study of the efficiency (or lack thereof) of the use of fossil fuels through energy audits will help in identifying solutions for the better and more decarbonised functioning of the trawling fleet in the Mediterranean. As mentioned by the author, the key technical solutions presented was that a reduced drag of the trawl nets would lead to a decrease in fuel consumption, therefore allowing for a lower carbon footprint and savings on fuel expenditure. 

Among these solutions was the use of lighter trawl doors, the modification of the setting of the trawl net, using a ‘W’ set-up, and the modification of the net itself, reducing the surface of the net at the top. The general conclusion met through these trials was that changes of this type were achievable and realistic on the short term and that, following and economic analysis, the cost of gear modifications could be rapidly absorbed thanks to the savings made on fuel.

The study should be focused on towed fishing gears via a compilation of state of play, development of new fishing gear(s), its testing and dissemination of results.

In recent years there has been increased unease within the fishing industry due to the fuel prices risen, which, coupled with the shortage in income due to the poor state of the fish resources, has led to many fishing enterprises to economic collapse or close to it (Scholaert, 2023). As with other economic activities in the EU, there is a growing need for fishing to transition and move away as soon as possible from fossil fuels (Sala et al., 2022; Sala et al., 2023; Ziegler and Hornborg, 2023). 

Energy is one of the major cost items in the EU trawl fisheries sector. The hike in energy prices resulted in marine-diesel prices more than doubling in 2022 compared to average prices in 2021. This in turn led to surging operational costs for the fishing fleet, with energy costs increasing from 13% of revenues in 2020 to an estimated 35% in 2022 (Communication COM(2023) 100, 2023).

Solutions are available, funding ready and regulations in place but implementation of solutions is very low at EU level due to several barriers (ICES, 2023). Several studies have highlighted practical examples and ongoing developments within the broader shipping industry, showcasing their potential for technology transfer in the Mediterranean and Black Sea fisheries to reduce fuel consumption and gains in fuel saving. Bastardie et al. (2022) reported that several energy-efficient technologies and innovations already exist, but they would require improving their uptake, including demonstrating to stakeholders the potentials for reduced fuel use intensity. Davies et al. (2023) identified measures and opportunities for greenhouse gas emission reduction, and policy options that could facilitate implementation. The European Commission action plan on decarbonising fisheries outlines two directions of change: to increase energy efficiency in the short to medium term, while making a gradual switch from fossil fuels to renewable and low-carbon energy sources (Communication COM(2023) 100, 2023).

Scope of the study

The proposal of the DecarbonyT project presented on the draft Inception report (D01) aimed at determining a future direction towards high potential fishing fleet improvement. The following towed fishing gears were initially covered: otter trawlers (OTB); beam trawls (TBB); and pelagic trawlers (OTM).

These are amongst the fishing techniques with highest fuel consumption (Sala et al., 2022; European Commission, 2023; Ziegler and Hornborg, 2023) and with higher vulnerability to fuel price variation and taxation. Additionally, for these fisheries fuel consumption is a large part of operational cost and have a strong impact on profitability.

Pelagic pair trawl (PTM) is not used in the GSA29 (Black Sea), therefore pilot sea trials will investigate improvements in OTM fisheries (single-boat pelagic trawling) of the Black Sea. Regarding the Mediterranean, partners originally proposed a pilot study on “Shifting from pair-trawling to single-boat trawling” in the Adriatic Sea (GSA17-19). Shifting from pair-boat to single-boat pelagic trawling was considered as a potential improvement assuming no increase of fishing effort and catch efficiency.


Table 1. Pilot studies in the selected area (GSA) and fishing gear combinations.

AreaGFCM GSAFishing gear
Western MediterraneanGSA1-7OTB
Central MediterraneanGSA15-16
Adriatic and IonianGSA17-19
Eastern Mediterranean GSA22-23OTB
Black Sea GSA29OTB, TBB, OTM

Purpose of the specific contract

The overarching aim of this Specific Contract is to assess to what extent the use of optimized trawling gears in the Mediterranean and Black Sea can lead to lower fuel consumption and a more decarbonised fishing fleet. To fulfil this aim, the following main objectives have been defined:

1.     carrying out the development of a detailed literature review, and energy audits to establish baselines in the main trawl fisheries;

2.     launching pilot projects for the testing of gear modifications;

3.     performing socio-economic analysis of the results emanating from said pilot projects;

4.     ensuring the fishing industry, gear manufacturers, and relevant researchers are involved in this project.

This involvement is crucial for the uptake of the innovations tested in the pilot projects and consequently to the development of the socio-economic analyses emanating therefrom. Finally, showcasing the new types of fishing gears and their benefits, with stakeholders and Mediterranean (MEDAC) and Black Sea (BISAC) Advisory Councils, is a key enabling factor to ensure a rapid uptake by the fishing sector.

The project centres on towed fishing gears, with a focus on activities and innovations throughout the duration of the contract. In detail:

(a)   to review the latest gear technology advancements that have allowed for significant reductions in net drag and fuel consumptions as well as a compilation and critical review of best practices (Task 1), and;

(b)   to perform energy audit surveys to collect information and identify areas of possible intervention, on this basis;

(c)   to develop and test, through a minimum of 10 pilot sea trials. See Table 1 in Section §2 (Scope of the study) and the identified set of gear modifications (Table 2) that will allow reaching fuel consumption targets (Task 2);

(d)   to develop an economic analysis of the cost/benefits of adopting more fuel-efficient fishing gears (Task 3). These will allow for concrete results and create an impetus towards the development and adoption of new fishing gears to achieve energy-efficient and decarbonised fishing sector. 

(e)   to ensure full engagement with the fishing sector (Task 4), fishing gear manufacturers and Mediterranean (MEDAC) and Black Sea (BISAC) Advisory Councils to ensure the maximum dissemination of the sea trials and results.

Methodological approach

The DecarbonyT project will be a combined desk-based and fieldwork research. The study will unfold through a step-by-step approach, the literature review being the first step. Secondly, the project will establish baselines by new energy audit surveys to identify areas of possible intervention. The energy audit surveys will be carried out on a sample of ten fishing vessels in each area/gear combination stratified by vessel length and engine power. Finally, the project will find appropriate gear manufacturers, door manufacturers and fishers willing to participate in the project. Appropriate participation will ensure meaningful and insightful outcomes. Once the pilot testing completed, the results will be analysed in depth allowing for the relevant final socio-economic conclusions to be drawn.

The dissemination of the study results in relevant venues such as the MEDAC, BISAC, GFCM WGFiT and other events.