As more fishing boats are put in use in the coming years, there would be a growing need for vessels that run on greener alternatives

A significant effort is underway in India, the third-largest fish-producing nation in the world, to shift the fisheries sector to green mobility. Using electric or solar-powered boats for fishing and transportation is good for not just the environment but they also make good economic sense. These boats lower the logistics cost and make these communities competitive in the global exports market. They curb noise pollution and emissions and promote the coastal economy.

Currently, the fishing industry uses trawlers that guzzle the highly polluting diesel fuel. According to a report, the CO2 emissions from fuel burnt by fishing boats has been significantly higher than previously thought. Researchers have found that 207-million tonnes of CO2 were released into the atmosphere by marine fishing vessels in 2016 alone – almost the same amount of CO2 emitted by 51 coal-fired power plants in the same timeframe.

Fig 1. Photo courtesy: Vietnamese Private Tours/Pexels

How does the Fishing sector impact the environment?

India, the world’s fastest-growing major economy, has set an ambitious target to decarbonise itself while pursuing economic growth. Despite a low per-capita emission (1.9 tons of CO2 in 2021 compared with 15.5 tons for the US), it announced at COP 26, in Glasgow, its aim to become a net-zero emitter by 2070.

As more marine vessels are put in use in the coming years, there would be a growing need for vessels that run on greener alternatives. The net zero emissions by 2050 scenario requires an almost 15% reduction in emissions from 2022 to 2030, experts say.

If India is to meet its climate goals, curbing emissions by the fisheries sector is imperative. Experts say shifting to marine-based transportation can help in curbing the emissions and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) quicker.

How Do We Do that?

To ensure a smooth transition from diesel to electric boats, authorities and start-ups are working on finding low-cost and sustainable mechanisms. While the government has focussed on creating the right ecosystem for promoting the coastal economy, some start-ups have been working on developing ‘green’ boats to transport people and freight.

Recently, Srav, a solar energy-powered offshore fishing vessel, developed by Kochi-based NavAlt Solar and Electric Boats, won accolades in France for becoming the world's first sea-going solar fishing vessel. It was also adjudged the 'Best Electric Work Boat" in the world in 2022. The company says the boat has a 50-km range, making it ideal for small fishers. Its energy bill is also stated to be significantly less compared to vessels that run on fossil fuels.

The Srav can be used by fishers across India, which has a significant coastline, stretching more than 7,500 km.

Marine Economy

All nine Indian coastal states have a thriving maritime fishing economy. Together, these states account for 6.72% of the agriculture GDP and 1.10% of the total GDP. In fact, India contributes about 8% to world fish production, according to the Department of Fisheries. These coastal states – such as Goa, Maharashtra, Bengal, Odisha – can replicate Kerala in launching electric and solar-powered boats for the fishing community. The state governments can also offer soft loans to the fishers.

Considered a sunrise sector, fisheries is poised to play a significant role in boosting the Indian economy in the near future.  In recent years, inland fisheries too have developed at a rapid pace, contributing 70% of fish production due to a shift from capture to culture-based fisheries.

Inland Fisheries

While this is encouraging, inland fisheries and aquaculture is still underdeveloped. The unutilized and underutilised water resources – 1.91 lakh km of rivers and canals, 12 lakh Ha of floodplain lakes, 23.6 lakh Ha of ponds and tanks, besides reservoirs and brackish water resources – offer great opportunities.

This would also call for developing sustainable inland waterways for transportation. A big challenge for running electric boats appears to be the massive charging infrastructure that would be required to be set up near the water bodies.

The Indian Inland Waterways Authority has begun addressing this challenge. Besides identifying inland waterways and starting to rejuvenate them by starting ferry services, it is also trying to set up charging stations near the banks. For example, the authority is set to run electric catamaran boats and jetties on the Sarayu river in Ayodhya, UP, and is planning to set up charging infrastructure for the electric boats near the banks.

The government also plans to introduce hybrid electric boats for passenger and ro-pax services on the Ganga and the Brahmaputra in areas such as Guwahati and Dibrugarh in Assam, Kolkata in West Bengal, Patna in Bihar and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.

Fig 1. Photo courtesy: Vietnamese Private Tours/Pexels

What is the Way Forward for the Fishing sector

In the past, the emissions from agriculture and fisheries were given little importance as compared to other major sectors for emissions. Later, they grew in importance and found a place at the centre of several studies and research. Fishing is one of the most energy-intensive food production methods and thus would require technology disruption, investments as well as behavioural change among fishers to sustain. This is what needs to be done:

  • Authorities should promote the use of renewable energy in fishing boats, if required, through legislation which would deal with the standardisation of fishing boats, set clear targets and timelines.
  • The government, the scientific community, and the private sector – everyone should come together to support the development of efficient fishing gear.
  • Use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) – floating structures that attract fish – should be encouraged to allow fishers to catch fish more easily and reduce the amount of fuel gulped by trawlers.
  • Fishers should be made aware about the importance of reducing carbon emissions for their sustenance and what changes they could make to reduce emissions. They should be provided financial assistance to offset the cost of the new equipment or training.
  • Marine protected areas need to be created to help conserve fish populations. This would eliminate the need for boats to travel long distances to find a good catch.