Brussels, 21 February 2023
Fisheries, aquaculture and marine ecosystems: transition to clean energy and ecosystem protection for more sustainability and resilience
Today, the Commission is presenting a package of measures to improve the sustainability and resilience of the EU’s fisheries and aquaculture sector. It includes four elements: A Communication on the Energy Transition of the EU Fisheries and Aquaculture sector; an Action Plan to protect and restore marine ecosystems for sustainable and resilient fisheries; a Communication on the common fisheries policy today and tomorrow and a Report on the Common Market Organisation for fishery and aquaculture products.
The main objectives of the measures are to promote the use of cleaner energy sources and reduce dependency on fossil fuels as well as reduce the sector’s impact on marine ecosystems. The proposed actions will be carried out gradually to help the sector adapt. A ‘Pact for Fisheries and Oceans’ will also support the full implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in coordination with Member States and fisheries stakeholders, including fishers, producer organisations, regional advisory councils, civil society and scientists. The proposals also have at its heart making the sector an attractive job place for the younger generations.
Net zero emissions fisheries and aquaculture sector by 2050
The sector’s current dependency on fossil fuels is not only environmentally unsustainable, but also makes it vulnerable to energy price increases. When fuel prices increased in 2021 and 2022, many vessels stayed in port and the sector required financial support as a large part of the EU fishing fleet was unable to cover operational costs. Aquaculture was similarly exposed to higher prices of both fuel and feed. The sector benefited from EU financial support.
The Commission is today proposing to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and aim towards climate neutral fisheries and aquaculture sector, in line with one of the ambitions of the European Green Deal to reach climate neutrality in the EU by 2050. It is proposing measures to support the sector in accelerating its energy transition, by improving fuel efficiency and switching to renewable, low-carbon power sources.
One of the key actions is an Energy Transition Partnership for EU Fisheries and Aquaculture. It will bring together all stakeholders, including in fisheries, aquaculture, shipbuilding, ports, energy, NGOs, national and regional authorities, to collectively address the challenges of the sector’s energy transition.
The Commission will also work to close the gaps in the transfer of technology from research and innovation to application; to promote the development of skills among the workforce; and to improve the business environment, including in financing opportunities and awareness.
Protecting marine ecosystems for sustainable fisheries
Climate change, biodiversity loss and ocean pollution threaten the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture resources. The Commission is presenting a marine action plan to reinforce the CFP’s contribution to the EU’s environmental objectives and reduce the adverse impact of fishing activities on marine ecosystems, particularly through seabed disturbance, by-catch of sensitive species and effects on marine food webs. A healthy marine environment with healthy fish stocks and rich biodiversity is the only way to ensure a prosperous future for EU fisheries communities in the medium and long term.
The action plan contributes to delivering on the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and its commitment to legally and effectively protect 30% of our seas, with one third being strictly protected. To fulfil this goal, the Commission calls on Member States to take fisheries conservation measures to protect and manage marine protected areas (MPAs) effectively, with a clear timeline. These efforts should include the protection of fish spawning and nursery areas, the reduction of fish mortality rates and the restoration of core areas for sensitive species and habitats.
The plan also aims to reduce the impact of fishing on the seabed. Urgent protection and restoration of seabed habitats in MPAs is critical, given their significance as hotspots of EU marine biodiversity and the importance of blue carbon in marine habitats for tackling climate change. The Commission, therefore, calls on Member States to propose joint recommendations and take national measures to phase out mobile bottom fishing in all MPAs by 2030 at the latest and not to allow it in any newly established MPAs. First measures should be taken already by March 2024 for Natura 2000 sites under the Habitats Directive that protect the seabed and marine species.
The action plan also proposes actions to increase the selectivity of fishing gear and practices and to reduce the incidental catches of threatened species, setting a timetable to help Member States prioritise those species that require most protection.
As oceans and seas cover 71% of the Earth’s surface and more than 65% of EU territory, today’s action plan will also be part of the EU’s contribution to the implementation of the recently agreed Kunming-Montréal biodiversity agreement .
‘Pact for Fisheries and Oceans’ to help implement the common fisheries policy
The common fisheries policy continues to be the adequate legal framework to address the challenges that EU fisheries and the seas on which they depend are facing, giving the necessary stability to the fisheries sector and allowing the EU to lead by example in driving sustainable fisheries worldwide. The three main principles on which the policy is based are still relevant today: environmental, social and economic sustainability; effective regional cooperation; and science-based decision-making. However, several challenges remain for the CFP to be fully implemented, and faster and more structural transformation is needed to reduce environmental and climate impacts of fishing and aquaculture. This is necessary to restore a healthy marine environment and ensure food security, as well as to help the sector become more resilient, increase energy efficiency and contribute to climate neutrality quickly. This will help to save on fuel costs and thrive on green energy.
In order to establish a united vision for the future of the fisheries and aquaculture sector, to reconfirm the joint commitment to fully implement the CFP to launch discussions between fisheries managers and stakeholders on future-proofing the policy in terms of both social and environmental resilience, the Commission proposes a ‘Pact for Fisheries and Oceans‘, bringing together all stakeholders. The ‘Pact for Fisheries and Oceans’ opens a new phase of dialogue and cooperation between the Commission and all fisheries stakeholders. It will build common understanding of the objectives to be achieved and help adapt the policy where necessary.
In 2020, there were 124,630 people employed in EU commercial fisheries and 57,000 in aquaculture. The common fisheries policy (CFP) aims to ensure long-term environmental, economic, and social sustainability for fisheries and aquaculture; the availability of food supplies; and a fair standard of living for fisheries and aquaculture communities.
Ten years after the reform of the common fisheries policy, the Commission is reporting on the functioning of the policy, as well as of the common market organisation. At the same time, it also takes the opportunity to set its vision for sustainable fisheries of the future.
For more information
Common Fisheries Policy
Protection of marine ecosystems for sustainable fisheries
Energy transition in the EU fisheries and aquaculture sector
Common Market Organisation
We want to establish a ‘Pact for Fisheries and Oceans’ to work together with everyone to ensure sustainable and resilient fisheries, protect and restore our marine ecosystems, make the sector profitable and strengthen our food security in the long-term. We are proposing concrete actions to restore marine ecosystems and to reduce the impact of fishing activities on the marine environment, thus responding also to the commitments the EU made in the historic agreement reached at COP15 in Montreal on a new global biodiversity framework. We are also promoting an energy transition to help the sector adapt its vessels and equipment, improve working conditions and move towards renewable, low-carbon energy sources. We know this is a challenging task. For this reason, the transformation will be gradual and we will promote dialogue between all communities to lay the foundation for a resilient fisheries and aquaculture sector.
Much of our economy depends on nature. Fisheries are quite possibly the sector where this link is most direct. Europe’s marine ecosystems and the fish, shellfish, algae, and plants that are part of them are crucial to the economic viability of fisheries. With these proposals we aim to build a sustainable relationship with our seas. The European Commission will work with local fishing communities, the aquaculture and fisheries sector and help them adopt sustainable practices, from reducing energy usage to using more selective fishing gear. As part of efforts to restore and protect nature, we also ask Member States to phase out bottom trawling in fragile areas. When we ensure the sustainability of fisheries we invest in the resilience and future of the sector and its workers. Working together, we can find the right balance and establish healthy marine ecosystems all over Europe.
Q&A: Energy transition in EU fisheries and aquaculture sectors
Brussels, 21 February 2023
Why do we need to accelerate the energy transition in EU fisheries and aquaculture? Why is an EU-level initiative necessary?
Currently, a significant share of EU fisheries and aquaculture businesses is energy intensive and relies heavily on fossil fuels for their operations. This dependency leads to two main problems:
- It makes the sector vulnerable to increases in energy prices. In 2022, marine-diesel prices more than doubled compared to the average prices in 2021, which led to energy costs increasing from 13% of revenues in 2020 to an estimated 35% in 2022. Many fishers had to temporarily cease operations or seek public aid to help cover operational costs. This shows that the sector needs to boost its energy efficiency and reinforce its resilience against energy price volatility. Less vulnerability to fossil fuel price swings will also help ensure prosperity for the coastal communities that depend on these activities for their livelihoods.
- Fossil fuel use also reduces the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture products by increasing their carbon footprint. Like every economic sector, EU fisheries and aquaculture will need to play its role in achieving the European Green Deal‘s climate objectives by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The energy transition in this sector is also a crucial step towards more sustainable EU food production. The Communication on the functioning of the Common Fisheries Policy identifies energy efficiency as a driver for sustainable and profitable fishing and aquaculture.
Some vessels and aquaculture facilities have succeeded in improving their energy efficiency and switching to renewable and low-carbon energy sources (see examples of projects). However, there are several barriers to the further development and wide uptake of the necessary technologies, such as: gaps in existing knowledge, low market-readiness for certain types of innovations, need for new skills, and sufficient and accessible financing opportunities.
Thanks to actions put forward in the Communication, people working in the sector should benefit from the efforts, at EU, national and regional levels, to address the current knowledge, technology and finance challenges.
In addition, the Commission will launch the foresight project Fishers of the Future to investigate what could be the long-term changes that affect fishers’ employment and role in society.
How will the Commission’s new initiative contribute to accelerating the energy transition in EU fisheries and aquaculture?
Two main changes are necessary for the energy transition in this sector:
- an increase in energy efficiency, including a decrease in fuel-use intensity and in overall fuel consumption in the sector in the short to medium term; and
- a switch from fossil fuels to renewable and zero or low-carbon energy sources and fuels. Examples of these energy sources are green electricity, hydrogen, certain biofuels, ammonia, as well as batteries and windpower.
To achieve these, the initiative proposes four main sets of actions to overcome existing barriers in stakeholder cooperation, knowledge and innovation, skills, and financing:
- Improving the coordination and cooperation between stakeholders. One of the key deliverables of the initiative is the establishment of an Energy Transition Partnership for EU fisheries and aquaculture with the objective to develop a roadmap for the sector’s climate-neutral energy transition by 2050. It will bring together stakeholders from the fisheries and aquaculture sector, as well as research institutes, public authorities, the shipbuilding sector, port authorities, energy providers, non-governmental organisations and financial institutions.
- Bridging the knowledge and technology gaps through research and innovation. Currently, there is a lack of energy-efficiency data, which limits the ability to measure and trace emissions and thus a lack of know-how about the potential of energy-efficient technologies. The uptake of new technologies is also compromised by gaps in information and knowledge on the compatibility of already available solutions across different types of vessels in the fleet, such as more energy efficient and environmentally friendly gears, fishing techniques and strategies. The Commission will notably launch a study on the available technologies and set up an online platform to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and best practices in the sector.
- Developing skills and a workforce adapted for the energy transition. There are currently limited opportunities for those working at sea, in aquaculture facilities, in ports, and in supporting sectors to acquire the necessary practical skills for working with novel and alternative propulsion technologies. Another barrier is the ageing of the workforce and the difficulty to attract new talent and young people to the sector. The Commission will promote calls for careers in the “blue economy”, comprising jobs and activities in coastal and marine areas, and also encourage training, reskilling and upskilling actions by the Member States. It will also explore setting up a virtual academy programme on the energy transition for the sector.
- Improving the business environment, including financing opportunities. The European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) supports a variety of activities, including education projects and the development, testing, auditing and dissemination of energy-efficient technologies. The Commission will also develop specific guidance to help the sector access other EU funds and assistance mechanisms to support the energy transition in the sector to the fullest.
All actions of the Communication will contribute to increase the sector’s resilience to external shocks, open new market opportunities, and improve EU’s fisheries and aquaculture sectors’ sustainability.
How will EU funding support the energy transition in the EU fisheries and aquaculture sector?
The European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) can support the energy transition in the sector, especially in the development and wider deployment of technologies that can help accelerate the transition.
This can be done through the funding of tests, demonstrators and feasibility studies for innovative technologies, which are essential steps towards the wider uptake of technologies in the sector. EMFAF can also support skills programmes, energy audits and other initiatives for the dissemination of knowledge and technologies.
Besides, EMFAF can support investments in mature technologies, such as improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon footprint, for example hydrodynamic optimisation, gear efficiency, alternative fuels and bridge systems for engine control.
Some other types of investments are possible under certain conditions that aim to prevent overcapacity and thus overfishing, notably:
- replacement/modernisation of engines for vessels of up to 24 metres in length; and
- increase in volume of vessels of up to 24 metres in length to make space available for the installation of more energy-efficient engines.
Other EU funds can also support the energy transition in the sector, such as:
- EU’s research and innovation programme Horizon Europe can offer support to fishing vessels through actions targeted at the shipping industry’s transition to renewable energy;
- EU Mission “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030” can include financial support on innovation to support a climate-neutral fisheries and aquaculture sector;
- European Regional Development Fund and the Innovation Fund can support projects including innovative low-carbon technologies with commercial demonstrations, as long as they comply with the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy;
- REPowerEU and the Recovery and Resilience Facility provide additional financial instruments that Members States can use to support projects in the energy transition of the sector; and
- EU’s Blue Invest platform supports innovative early-stage businesses and SMEs by providing them with targeted investment support and access to finance.
The Commission will develop specific guidance on the available funds for the energy transition in the sector.
What is the new Energy Transition Partnership for EU fisheries and aquaculture? Who can join it?
The Energy Transition Partnership aims to provide a central platform to bring together all the actors and sectors concerned in the transition and will foster cooperation, coordination and sharing of best practices amongst them. So far, various stakeholders in the EU fisheries and aquaculture sector have tried to take on the energy transition through stand-alone initiatives.
Having an EU-level platform will enable the Commission and stakeholders to further identify any additional barriers for the energy transition and above all work on finding concrete, practical solutions to accelerate the transition in the sector. The Energy Transition Partnership is open to all stakeholders, especially fishers, aquaculture producers, port operators, shipbuilders, energy producers, national and regional authorities, business associations. The views of citizens will also be sought.
The Partnership will be launched at a high-level conference on the energy transition in EU fisheries and aquaculture, planned to take place in the second quarter of 2023. By 2024, the Commission will aim to develop a roadmap for the energy transition towards climate neutrality by 2050 in close cooperation with the Partnership.
What should national authorities do to support the energy transition in fisheries and aquaculture?
Member States have a crucial role in accelerating the sector’s energy transition at national and regional level. The Commission invites Member States to contribute in different ways, notably by:
- integrating knowledge and skills about the energy transition in vocational training aimed at the fisheries and aquaculture workforce, which can be supported by EU funding (EMFAF, Erasmus+, ESF+, Recovery and Resilience Facility, etc.);
- proposing strategic investments on energy efficiency in their national fisheries and aquaculture sector through EU funding, such as the EMFAF and other EU financial tools;
- using the flexibility within their national fishing capacity ceilings, in cooperation with the sector, to facilitate its reallocation where additional capacity is needed to enable the uptake of clean technologies on-board;
- establishing regional projects under the EU Mission “Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030” and promoting projects on energy transition starting in 2024; and
- including in their national Recovery and Resilience Facility plans, support, reforms and investments related to energy transition and clean energies in the sector.
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