Carbon Footprint

The Carbon footprint of global fishing

A study of 250 fisheries around the world (click here to read the study), taking 2000 as its reference year, shows that 50 billion liters of fuel oil are needed to catch 80 million tons of marine invertebrate fish. The world average is therefore 0.6 liters of fuel oil per kilo of fish caught. For fish caught using bottom trawls, up to 3 liters of fuel oil are needed per kilo of fish caught. Before deep-sea fishing fleets were modernized, the ratio may well have been even higher for deep-sea catch. Global fisheries account for 1.2% of the world’s oil consumption and are directly responsible for releasing 130 million tons of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Consumption varies between fishing techniques. Bottom trawls, being pulled by the vessel’s engine power, naturally consume the highest amounts of fuel oil.  

Fishing gear

Liters of fuel oil per kilo of fish caught (l/kg) Fuel costs as a percentage of turnover


0.42-3 l/kg

35% (and above)

Danish seine

0.14-0.44 l/kg


0.49-1.7 l/kg


0.1-0.14 l/kg

11% (and above)


0.33-0.78 l/kg


0.81-1.8 l/kg


0.35 l/kg

Line 1.7 l/kg

Liters of fuel oil consumed per kilo of fish caught (source: Tyedmers 2004).

Fuel-hungry towed gears

Extremely high fuel consumption, and, by association, rising fuel prices, are the Achilles’ heel of towed gears, particularly for ocean-going vessels carrying out distant, deepwater fishing. The French Research Institute for Exploration of the Sea (Ifremer) and the AMURE Research Unit estimate the annual fuel oil consumption of French fishing activities for 2006 at 300 million tons (with towed gears accounting for three quarters of this). This figure excludes the 52 vessels measuring over 40 meters long that have never filled in the Ifremer’s information sheets on fuel consumption. These vessels make up just 1% of the overall fleet, but 15% of the total onboard power. The following table shows the characteristics identified by comparative calculations concerning fishing activities:

Summary table showing the fuel consumption of fishing vessels, based on a July 2008 study by Ifremer/the Armure Research Unit. Figures for trawlers over 40 meters long calculated using declarations by fishing corporations, press articles and operating accounts.

 Rising oil prices and fuel expenditures

Fuel expenditure represents an increasing proportion of turnover for industrial, offshore fleets engaged in bottom (particularly deep-sea) trawling. This is clearly the result of rising fuel oil prices, as shown below:

Evolution of fuel oil prices (before tax, in current euros per liter) from January 1989 to April 2011. Source: MEEDDM/DGEC (French Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development, and the Sea/Directorate-General for Energy and the Climate).

The annual average fuel oil price (before tax) in 2005 was €0.44/liter. In 2010, it was €0.53/liter. In 2011, it was €0.67/liter: an increase of over 52% since 2005. This shows that fuel can represent up to half of turnover for towed demersal gears, when pre-tax prices exceed 60 euro cents per liter.In fact, our analysis of the finances of French fleets showed that in 2008, purchase of primary resources represented 35% of turnover for Scapêche, 38% for Euronor and 47% for Dhellemmes.

From the time of Scapêche’s decision to construct new, specialist ships (in 2002, when the average price of fuel oil was €0.26/liter) to 2011, oil prices rose by around 150%. As stated by the organisation itself, “Scapêche’s calculations were based on on a fuel oil price of between €0.25 and €0.45 per liter.”

Public subsidies bailing out unprofitable activities

The context of financial asphyxiation caused by the intense capitalist logic of fishing activities explains why businesses involved in deep-sea fishing have the greatest difficulty in maintaining even modest profit margins. In fact, France’s large, industrial fleets are chronically unprofitable and two of them (Dhellemmes and Euronor) now belong to large, foreign groups, whilst Scapêche is owned by the Mousquetaires/Intermarché group. This mass retail giant can bail out Scapêche’s unprofitable fishing activities as part of an integrated business strategy based on easy access to the raw resource, since selling fish is undeniably highly profitable. Trawling, because of fuel requirements, is such a burden on operating costs that all deep-sea fishing fleets have, to varying extents, begun to diversify their activities, to incorporate fishing methods that need less fuel.

Fleet conversion policies

For example, the Dhellemmes fleet in Concarneau has diversified towards Danish seining, allowing it make fuel economies of 40 to 50%. Whereas trawlers use “two litres per kilo of fish on most boats”, seiners use one litre per kilo of fish. The fleet’s president announced in 2008 that fuel prices had risen “by 143% since 2000, whilst average fish prices have risen by only 41%(…). This unavoidably impacts on the profitability of the business.” “Fuel prices have become our key financial indicator”.

Conversion by will or necessity

The three examples provided by the offshore fleets specializing in deep-sea trawling demonstrate that ships are converting to avoid dependency on fuel prices and on deep-sea catch (which is declining, where pelagic fish catch is increasing: see the Ifremer study referenced above). Whether fleets convert willingly or out of necessity, it seems that there is little future for fishing methods that rely as heavily on diesel oil as trawling does.

References and sources

  1. Fabien Steinmetz, Olivier Thébaud, Fabian Blanchard, Pascal Le Floch and Julien Bihel, “A bio-economic analysis of long term changes in the production of French fishing fleets operating in the Bay of Biscay”, Aquat. Living Resour. 21, 317–327 (2008).
  2. Thébaud O., Daurès F., Girard S., Guyader O., Le Floc’h P, Le Gallic B., Mongruel M., “Données récentes sur la situation économique du secteur de la pêche en France”. UMR-AMURE, 30 June 2008.
  3. PLANCHOT Marie, DAURES Fabienne, “Le secteur français des pêches maritimes face à l’augmentation du prix du gasoil”. IFREMER summary note, Système d’Informations Halieutiques, July 2008.
  4. Tyedmers, P. “Fisheries and energy use”. In: Encyclopaedia of Energy, 2004. Cleveland, C. (ed.). Elsevier, San Diego, vol. 2. pp. 683–693.
  5. Peter H. Tyedmers, Reg Watson and Daniel Pauly, “Fueling Global Fishing Fleets”. Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Ambio Vol. 34, No. 8 December 2005.
  6. D. Priour & R. Khaled, Optimisation of trawl energy efficiency under fishing effort constraint, Ifremer 2009.
  7. Le Marin, 9 May 2008 “Diversification de l’activité à partir du chalutage”.
  8. Le Marin, 25 June 2010 “Une flotte redimensionnée” & Le Marin, 10 July 2009 “Dhellemmes sur la senne danoise”.
  9. Le Marin, 10 July 2009 “Dhellemmes sur la senne danoise”.
  10. Points de Vente, 2 June 2008 “Les Mousquetaires, pros du poisson frais”.
  11. UNION DES ARMATEURS À LA PÊCHE DE FRANCE – UAPF “Données économiques sur les chalutiers français pratiquant la pêche profonde dans l’Atlantique Nord-Est”, 01/02/2010.
  12. Costello, C. et al. (2012), “The Economic Value of Rebuilding Fisheries”, OECD Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Working Papers, No. 55, OECD Publishing.
  13. Martini, R. (2012), “Fuel Tax Concessions in the Fisheries Sector”, OECD Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Working Papers, No. 56, OECD Publishing.

Share :