What safety and sustainability mean for fishing vessels

Jun. 7 2021 - 6 min

Environmental and social responsibility are growing priorities for consumers, activists and non-governmental organizations the world over. For the global seafood industry – a market worth over $400 billion USD – meeting these expectations means assessing and improving practices throughout the value chain, starting with responsible sourcing. This requires ship owners to improve the safety and sustainability of their vessels in order to maintain their business.

Starting with classification

Unlike most ship types, fishing vessels are not subject to International Maritime Organization regulations—including requirements for vessel classification. The first attempt at uniform vessel regulation – the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing, proposed in 1977 – never gained enough support to be ratified. Since then, the 2012 Cape Town Agreement has been passed by 48 signatories, and could be ratified in October 2022. This will require 22 states representing at least 3,600 fishing vessels of 24 meters in length or greater to agree to its enforcement.

For ship owners, this means that undergoing classification is already a major differentiator in terms of environmental and social responsibility. Classification enables vessel owners to prove the safety and functionality of their ships, guaranteeing the wellbeing of personnel, the condition of hulls, and the reliability of onboard machinery. Ships that also comply with statutory requirements can go a step further, taking a more in-depth approach to topics like life-saving equipment (e.g., rafts, safety vests) and fire protection. By classing their fishing vessels, ship owners are demonstrating a great effort toward earning their place in a more sustainable supply chain.

Considering alternative energies

Minimizing environmental impact is another priority for fishing vessels, but it presents a unique set of challenges as compared to other ship types. Fishing vessels come in many sizes (from about 12 to 100 meters) and will have different types of equipment onboard, depending on what they are fishing for. Fishing vessels may also change course frequently, following unfixed routes over the course of days or weeks, making their power needs highly variable.

Alternative fuels are a possible solution for fishing vessels, which can already use LNG or dual-fuel to reduce their environmental impact. Other low- or zero-carbon fuels, such as methanol or ammonia represent future possibilities, although additional crew training would be required before vessels could use them. Space is another concern, as the tanks needed to carry LNG and ammonia can be large, taking up room on fishing vessels’ limited surfaces. For vessels that spend weeks or months at sea, stopping for bunkering could also be an impediment to using alternative fuels.

Alternative propulsion is another option for ship owners looking to develop more sustainable fishing vessels. A trawler with hybrid-electric propulsion has already been delivered, enabling the ship to reduce its carbon footprint through clean electricity. Batteries and even fuel cells could be adapted to smaller fishing vessels – principally those using passive gear, such as nets, lines and pots – with the added benefit of reducing operational costs for ship owners.

Delivering classification and sustainability

Bureau Veritas offers key classification services to help ship owners ensure the safety and reliability of their fishing vessels. We have dedicated Rules for the design and construction of newbuilds, and class notations for specific operational conditions and equipment, including systems for automation and refrigeration.

We further support fishing vessel owners in their efforts to use more sustainable fuels and alternative propulsion methods. Our expertise in LNG and notations for ammonia enable us to help in-service vessels achieve greater sustainability and prepare newbuilds to use cleaner fuels. We also offer safety services for battery-powered ships and a wealth of expertise in electric-hybrid power.