Question and Answers on the energy transition in EU fisheries and aquaculture sectors

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.


For more information

Press release on Fisheries, aquaculture and marine ecosystems: transition to clean energy and ecosystem protection for more sustainability and resilience

Communication from the Commission: On the Energy Transition of the EU Fisheries and Aquaculture sector

Possibilities and examples for energy transition of fishing and aquaculture sectors