Modernisation of fishing vessels is key to improving safety and working conditions

7 Oct 2020

The European fishing fleet is composed of a wide range of vessels, differing in dimensions, purpose and age. All these characteristics have an impact on the working conditions and safety of the crew.

Modernisation of fishing vessels and, with it, improvement of comfort on board (e.g. bigger common spaces on board, cabins for 2 instead of 4 or 6 people, better and more sanitary facilities, a decrease of emissions, vibrations, noise) has been a long-standing demand of the unions. It has been reinforced by the adoption of the ILO “Work in fishing” Convention 188 and has been also identified as one of the conditions to attract more young workers in the sector, in particular for long-distance fishing vessels. The Common Fisheries Policies also states “the Common Fisheries Policies should contribute to the improvement of safety and working conditions for fishing operators.”

The aim to improve the living and working conditions is therefore broadly accepted, but not yet reflected in the everyday realities of fishers. One of the reasons is the gross tonnage limit of the Common Fisheries Policy that pushes the owners to dedicate gross tonnage to large fish volume, engine room or fuel tanks, and not the fishers’ safety and comfort. At the moment, the calculation of gross tonnage of a trawler takes into account all volumes (e.g. fish tanks, fish sorting and freezing installations, accommodation for the crew). In order to maximise profits, the vessels owners prioritise maximising the fishing capacity and don’t introduce changes to the vessels that would benefit the crew.

The gross tonnage limitation – as currently defined and calculated – therefore has a negative impact on safety and comfort.

The ETF believes that alternative methods to calculate the gross tonnage could increase the gross tonnage limit overall while keeping fishing capacity the same. This way, the vessels’ owners would be more likely to modernise the vessels and introduce changes to improve living and working conditions on board. At the same time, the sustainability measures would remain and continue to protect the resource.

The ETF is working in the CCSUD on an opinion on this important issue.