Pelagic Picture #3 – Seeing Beyond Size

Pelagic Fisheries

The sustainability of fishing vessels depends on various factors, including the fishing practices, the targeted species, the regulatory framework in place, and the level of control and enforcement.

Freezer trawlers are often a key target in debates about fisheries, because of the assumption that large vessels or ‘supertrawlers,’ pronounced with a negative connotation, are by definition less sustainable than smaller vessels. The reality is that there is a very sustainable story behind the size of our vessels.

Therefore, we want to show you that our trawlers are indeed ‘super’. Not because of the length, or catching power, but because of the many positive advantages which contribute to the sustainability of the fishery:

For instance, freezer trawlers are specialised in fishing large quantities of stocks whose biomass is also huge. The nets are big and a lot of fish can be caught, but all the fishing activities are limited by strict quota, with a very solid scientific basis. There are strict controls on this; both at sea and on land.

It is further important to note that these vessels are not in competition with small-scale fishers. To be economically viable in pelagic fishing, it is necessary to fish large quantities. Also, the shoals of fish and often also the distant locations of those require a large-scale operation. Pelagic fishing is therefore not practised on a small scale, but of course this does not mean that it is not a responsible fishery: a large sprawling plantation is also more effective than a small one-man’s garden, and can still be a sustainable form of food supply.

Due to the freezer trawlers’  size and high-tech capabilities, pelagic fishing is also super-selective and super-efficient: the use of technology including sonar and echo equipment allows for detection and targeting the large shoals of fish, enabling highly selective fishing (more than 99%).

In addition, because of the on-board freezing capacity – which takes up more than 70% of the space – vessels do not constantly have to return to port to land. The vessels offer processing and storage capacity which allows for fish to be immediately sorted, refrigerated, and then frozen as soon as possible. This ensures that the quality remains excellent for direct human consumption.

Not only is this approach highly efficient by reducing the need for regular returns to port; it also reduces the environmental impact by reducing fuel consumption. As a result, wild-caught pelagic fish have one of the lowest carbon footprints of all animal proteins.

In short, the size of our vessels does not mean that they have disproportionate catching power – as is sometimes claimed. The catch capacity of vessels is bound by the maximum production possibilities per 24 hours, and more importantly: they are not allowedto catch more than the quotas set. And of course, it should not be forgotten that these vessels spend two to four weeks at sea. Therefore, there must also be enough space onboard for the 35 to 60 crew members.

So if you are looking beyond the size of the vessels, there is still a big ship, but for very different reasons that contribute to the sustainability of pelagic fish stock management and the pelagic fishing sector.

Read more about our fishing activities in the Channel the coming weeks: PFA members start herring fishing that is key to food security – Pelagic Freezer Trawler Association (

Date Posted: 14th December 2023

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