Sustainable Energy Use in the Fish Value Chain

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Countries in the Global South have a significant role in the exports of fish products, however, they are also to a greater extent affected by the increase in transport costs. Fisheries employ 120 million people globally, the greatest part of whom (90 percent) are involved in small-scale fisheries. Furthermore, 97 percent of small-scale fishermen and fisherwomen live in the Global South, while about half of those working in small-scale fisheries are women, mostly engaged in post-harvest activities, especially marketing and processing.[1] Small-scale fisheries, especially in the Global South, provide an important source of rural livelihoods, not to mention their role in food security and a broader potential for poverty eradication and economic development.[2] Despite the challenges that the sector faces, including strong dependence on fossil fuels and widespread food loss, small-scale fisheries are increasingly being recognized for their contribution to sustainable food systems and the opportunities they present for sustainable development.

The fisheries sector relies on the use of energy and to a great extent on fossil fuels which makes it highly sensitive to energy costs, especially taking into consideration fuel cost instability. While post-harvest's, processing’s and distribution activities’ demand for energy is significant, the catching sector, having few short-term alternatives to fossil fuels, is especially dependent on fuel and vulnerable to the fuel price fluctuations.[1] The welfare and income of people involved in capture fisheries is highly vulnerable to such cost instability. In many fisheries, profit margins are already low, but inadequate storage, processing and distribution facilities further threaten the wellbeing of people involved in the sector. Perishable food like fish needs continuous cold storage to maintain quality and hygienic standards. An estimated 33 percent of global food supply, including fish, is wasted. In less developed economies such food loss is associated with primary stage spoilage, while in more developed economies with process, retail, food service and household waste. Significant parts of food waste could be reduced relatively simply, e.g. through appropriate cooling of fish products.[1]

Opportunities for mitigation of the negative environmental effects of the sector and the impact of fuel price fluctuations on those involved in the fisheries mostly lie in the combination of energy efficiency measures and the use of renewable energy solutions, especially in post-harvest activities. Post-harvest functions and small-scale fishing already benefit from existing technologies powered by renewable energy, e.g. solar cooling technologies, which allow to generate employment and improve the living conditions in the fishing communities by increasing income and providing co-benefits, such as using surplus energy for charging phones, powering lamps or filtering water for drinking. Moreover, technologies supported by renewables can provide technological solutions in areas that are not connected to the grid or where electricity supply is unreliable and/ or expensive.[3]

Fishing in Vietnam.jpg
Fishing in Vietnam (GIZ / Harald Franzen).

Energy Use in Capture Fisheries

Fishing activities range from the simple hand-collection of shellfish or seaweeds onshore, cast nets and handlines in water margins or small boats and canoes with varying levels of mechanization, the modern mid-sized vessels to very sophisticated large fishing vessels with entire processing systems on board. All fishing activities can be classified into three categories:

  • Small-scale, artisanal and inshore fisheriesS are typically traditional activities involving individuals or households using small amounts of capital and relatively simple gear, in some cases only shore based, but commonly with small fishing vessels. Operations are generally carried out on a daily basis within a coastal or lakeside zone. Small-scale fishers are particularly at risk of competition from larger vessels in inshore waters. Apart from motorized vessels, fuel may be used for lighting (lamps and lights) but also for post-harvest activities such as for ice supply, cool storage, drying and smoking.
  • Coastal industrial fisheries are represented by medium-sized local vessels which can fish farther from the shore, compared to those used in small-scale, artisanal and inshore fisheries. They have to catch significantly larger amounts of fish to recover investment and operating costs.
  • Distant-water (offshore) fisheries often involve operating thousands of kilometers away from their bases, in international waters or licensed exclusive economic zones (EEZ) in distant waters, for trip periods of several months to more than a year, landing or transhipping periodically in a range of locations. The large size and fishing capacity of these vessels, and their relative mobility have opened this category of fishing to persistent concern for damaging stocks through overfishing.

Thus, fisheries close to the coast or operating base, and smaller-scale operations have lower use of technology and lower fuel costs but relatively high labour costs. Although different types of activities vary in their energy use, fossil fuels represent the main source of energy for the sector. As a result, most of the CO2 emissions from the capture fisheries are related to fuel use. Additionally, high reliance on fossil fuels exposes the capture fishery sector to the fuel price fluctuations. Except for non-motorized vessels, fuel represents a significant input cost in most fishing operations, across all scales of output. Fuel price impacts have greater effects in the Global South, those in poorer market conditions as well as on distant-water fisheries. At the same time, the use of older and more inefficient vessels due to the lack of capital hinders investment in technical and operational improvements that could reduce fuel costs. Rising fuel prices often result in reduced effort and an increase in catch per effort, which can lead to overfishing and have negative implications on resource levels.[1]

Financial margins in many fisheries are barely positive. Therefore, relatively small rises in fuel costs move many fleets into unprofitability. As labour and fuel normally constitute more than 50 percent of the total operating cost, rises in fuel costs often lead to reduction in workers’ income in order to compensate for operating costs that cannot be covered. There are two ways the capture sector can optimize its operations and retain or improve profits: increasing fishing capacity and potential revenues or improving profitability, financial efficiency through catch selection, value retention, and control of operating costs. Taking into consideration the share of energy in operating costs, energy efficiency measures and cross-cutting technologies such as solar cooling and e-mobility play a role in reducing the costs and improving profitability.[1]

The issue of the impact of fuel prices increases on capture fisheries should be considered in the wider context of economic output, social impacts, and food security. The longer-term investment in the fishing fleets and support structures at the national level are crucial for the broader economic development and food security, yet, natural resource management is still important to avoid depletion of fish stock.[1]

Energy Use in Aquaculture

Aquaculture sector has seen considerable growth since 2001. The sector is very diverse, ranging in species and enterprise types: from part-time subsistence activities for rural families, to publicly traded international corporations. Although aquaculture has higher first sale value levels than capture fisheries, it experiences higher input costs and strong market competition. The profitability of the sector is also sensitive to fuel and energy cost changes. However, fuel and energy inputs in aquaculture are more diversified than in the capture fisheries and related directly to external feeds, which are a primary factor in energy content, together with water supply and water quality management.[1]

Energy needs in aquaculture are associated with fuel involved in harvesting raw materials, processing them and distributing the manufactured feeds to production locations and direct fuel and electricity involved in production (non-feed energy inputs). Across a range of aquaculture systems, direct fuel inputs and costs are not major components in production and output (typically 0.5–5 percent of operating costs). At the same time, fuel and energy associated with feeds and their ecosystem support can be very significant. Feed energy accounts for almost 80 percent of total energy in intensive systems, 15–25 percent of which might be associated with harvesting, production and distribution. Pumping and aeration are identified as major non-feed related energy capacity inputs, with heating/cooling a feature in some recirculation system. Among them aeration of pond, tank and recycle systems is likely to be the most significant non-feed input. In many installed systems, aeration is the most common means of supporting more intensified production. For example, aeration accounts for 68 percent of total shrimp culture energy demands.[1]

As for energy demand by species groups, fuel and energy inputs are commonly the highest for intensive fish and crustacean production, including feeds and water exchange and aeration. Recycled water systems, while reducing water use and waste discharge, have even higher energy demands associated with water treatment and temperature control, but represent only a very small part of global production. By contrast, low-intensity systems have low energy demands but are often fertilized or partially fed, which raises energy inputs.[1]

Energy Use in Post-Harvest Activities

Post-harvest activities include icing/cooling, freezing, cold storage, curing, drying, and canning with far greater levels of frozen and canned fish production in developed countries and reliance on fresh or dried/smoked fish supply in developing countries. In recent decades, market opportunities for fresh or frozen products have expanded due to the development of transportation, freezing and cold storage technologies. The role of energy varies across the sector, but energy is critical as far as raw material and product handling and movement, temperature control, water supply, ice production, and packaging are concerned. Filleting, packaging, freezing and storage demand the highest energy inputs, while icing and freezing are the most energy-intensive processes. Although in developing countries’ fisheries the use of ice is less common than in developed countries, lower efficiency of production and usage may result in similar energy demands per unit of product. At artisanal levels, energy use also varies widely, and with smoking, can reach significant levels. Costs of energy in processing are usually recovered through the realisation of additional value and the expansion of market options, but there can be considerable savings on fuel costs through efficiency measures or the use of modern technology.[1]

Energy Use in Distribution, Sales, and Consumption

The development of better infrastructure in many sourcing areas, better market and communication links, and more diversified and sophisticated transport and distribution systems have contributed to the increased supply of higher-added-value products, fresh chilled or even live product in addition to traditional forms of fish products such as conserved, dried, salted, smoked, and bulk frozen. The transport and distribution systems are now essential components in retaining and adding value in supply to consumers.[1]

The major fuel and energy demand to consider at the distribution, sales and consumption stage include direct fuel costs in transport and handling, energy costs of cold storage and distribution, embedded energy in infrastructure and materials. In developing country contexts, energy use in cooking food, including fish, can be significant, especially in terms of the share in household’s expenditures. The options of reducing energy consumption or adapting to higher energy costs range from improving technical efficiency of components (road, rail, sea or air transport technologies, shipping units), better supply chain management, and finally, reducing supply distances.

Case Studies

Solar Cooling Technologies in the Fresh Fish Value Chain in Turkana County

Northern Kenya has significant solar radiation energy potential. Solar energy can easily be generated, including in rural and remote areas that are not usually connected to the grid. This makes the use of solar-powered technologies especially attractive to the agriculture sector.

The International Initiative “Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development” (PAEGGC) conducted a study (not published) to identify opportunities for solar cooling technologies in the fresh fish value chain in Turkana County in Kenya. Around Lake Turkana, there has been a growing interest in solar cooling technologies for the fish value chain, as the lack of cooling facilities is a key reason for the loss of value of this highly perishable commodity. Revenue generated from fresh fish is about three times, or more, of the price of the same fish when dried. Use of solar powered freezers and cool boxes allow traders to store and aggregate fresh fish.

The potential to use solar cooling technologies to scale up the fresh fish market is significant. First, Turkana County is endowed with long hours of intense sunshine for most of the year. Second, there are ready tested technologies that can be adapted to the climate and market in the county. Third, there are significant opportunities for expanding markets of fresh fish both in the county and outside; for increasing supply to existing markets and for developing partnerships with private investors.

Environmentally Friendly Cold Storage for Fish on Lake Victoria

As fish is a vital source of essential macro- and micronutrients, it could also play an important role in reducing the high prevalence of undernutrition. However, up to 60% of the fish spoils due to interrupted cold chains. The Fish Cold Store on Lake Victoria keeps fish fresh with technology that protects the environment and saves energy, therefore, more fish can make it to the market. As a result, fishermen can earn more for their catches.

A cold store is not simply a room used to keep food cold. It is a room specifically designed to meet the conditions for safe storage of perishable goods. Before the Cold Store was built, local fishermen often had to throw away 40 to 60% of their catch because they had no way to keep the fish cool. Now, 5 tons of fish can be stored and kept fresh for two to three days in the Fish Cold Store. The technology is powered by solar energy, and ice to cool the fish is made from lake water. Read more…

Night Fishing with Solar Powered LED Lights

Fishing is an important economic activity in the Kigoma region, located on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. The fishermen fish at night using pressurized kerosene lanterns to attract fish to the surface and their nets. This has important environmental as well as financial consequences for the lake, fishermen, local community and wider region. As part of a solar photovoltaic market development project funded by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, solar-powered LED lighting systems were designed and supplied to the fishermen on financed terms. Read more…

The Omena (fish) fishing sector depends on light for successfully harvesting the small cyprinids. Light attracts their fodder which in turn attracts the fish. Up to now, the fishermen’s need for a bright enough and transportable light was only possible to be covered by kerosene pressure lamps. OSRAM brand offers portable off-grid lighting solutions charged with solar energy with a high illuminance that help fishermen in Kenya to reduce the costs for lighting to half. The switch to the alternative, less polluting and energy consuming, lighting device raises the income of the fishermen and improves the living standards of their households. Read more…

River Ice Cooling System Improving Livelihoods of Fishing Communities

According to WHO estimation, an average of 30% of all food is spoiled due to inadequate storage options in developing countries. This figure rises to 50% in tropical regions. Particularly affected is fresh fish, as an estimated 40 % of the stock rots before it can be processed. Cooling devices are not available and the hygiene is insufficient. Many rural communities in proximity to rivers, e.g. the Amazon River, the Orinoco River, the Zambezi, Congo and the Nile, live on fishing and fish trade without the possibility of maintaining stocks. In these regions cooling is often as important as electricity.

River Ice is a cooling system which operates around the year, independent of the supply of conventional fuels. It has a potential to improve the livelihood of villagers living near to tropical rivers. The social impact is especially high in regard to the improvement of local living conditions and a better commercial exploitation of local fishing. The possibility of keeping their fish cooled leads to a greater job potential in the communities, also in the distribution, installation and maintenance of the River Ice plants. Moreover, water current turbines are a reliable and ecologically friendly technology. Overall, the River Ice plant could be supplemented by a small PV-driven ultrafiltration plant and as a result produce clean and germ-free water for the ice blocks from the river water. Read more…

Renewable Microgrids for Off-Grid Fish Hatcheries and Surrounding Communities

An estimated 12 million people in Bangladesh currently rely on the fishing industry for their livelihoods. Fish hatcheries, who sell fish on to households and other businesses, require constant running water. Most fish hatcheries and their surrounding communities currently rely extensively on diesel and kerosene to provide the electricity needed to pump water and provide lighting. The use of kerosene and diesel, in addition to being costly, pollutes the environment and threatens the food chain and human health.

In a pilot project, Powering Aquaculture, Renewable World in partnership with iDE and Rahimafrooz Renewable Energy Ltd. (RREL) have tested cost-effective, Clean Energy Solutions (CES) for two fish hatcheries and the surrounding communities in the Ganges delta. The solar microgrids with mobile based metering and payment system serve a total of 47 households, eight small and medium scale enterprises SMEs, and one community mosque. The electricity generated is used for water pumping at the hatcheries and to power household appliances such as lights, fans, televisions, and refrigerators in the communities (see Powering Agriculture Final Report). Read more…

Reducing Food Waste in Indonesia’s Fishing Communities

Indonesia is the world’s third largest producer of fish, yielding some 6 million tons per year. However, many small-scale fishers from Indonesia’s coastal communities struggle to make a living. Many of these communities have historically lacked access to the technology and resources needed to preserve their catch until it reaches the markets, which are usually far from their rural coastal inlets. As a result, up to 35 per cent of all seafood in Indonesia is ultimately lost or wasted before consumption.

Starting from 2013, with the help of the Coastal Community Development Project (CCDP), people in these communities organized themselves into enterprise groups, improved the quality of their catch and accessed necessary technologies and broader markets – all while drastically reducing food waste. The project invested in ice-making plants and cold rooms in carefully chosen districts and then paired this infrastructure with small insulated transport facilities. Workers all along the value chain, from fishers to marketers, soon began to benefit from the vastly improved preservation. The amount of each day’s catch lost to spoilage quickly declined – thereby increasing the proportion that remained viable for sale. Read more…

Producing Ice with Solar Energy

Félane is a fishing village in Senegal, some 200 kilometres south of the capital Dakar. The village doesn’t have access to electricity. The inhabitants of Félane used to buy ice in neighbouring towns and transport it back to the village.  For the fishermen ice is in great demand, as it is crucial to preserve the quality of the fresh fish. With the price per litre of 150 West African CFA francs (around 23 Euro cents) and transport costs so high, little hope was left to make a profit from the sale of their fish. Since a cooperative of village women started operating the local ice station in 2015, lives of hundreds of people in the village, including women running the factory, have improved, as they no longer have to travel long distances to simply buy ice or charge their phones. Moreover, now Félane women can earn their income by running the factory.

The machine boasts 24 solar panels which generate a little over six kilowatts of electricity and enables the women to produce 200 kilos of ice a day. The system also has a solar pump that pumps 13 to 14 cubic metres of water for the ice every day. Anything left over is used to water the 2,500-square-metre garden next to the building, thus, selling tomatoes, aubergines, lettuce, peppers and okra has become another source of income for the cooperative. Additionally, the small factory run by the women’s cooperative powers the charging station where the village inhabitants can charge their phones. Read more…

E-mobility Improving the Lives of People Living on the Shores of Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria, which borders Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, is home to over 200 species of plants and animals not found anywhere else in the world. But this eco-system is in danger, with 76% of the fish species threatened by extinction. The livelihoods of 30-50 million people who, directly or indirectly, are dependent on the lake are also acutely threatened. Overfishing is one reason for the alarming state of the lake, another is massive pollution. Farms and open sewers contribute to the problem by discharging chemicals into the lake. But the 30,000 fishing boats are also a factor.

The start-up ASOBO motivates fishermen in Kenya to switch to high-tech electric motors, not only because its environmentally sustainable and convenient but also because e-mobility holds economic advantages. The rental fee for the e-motors is 20-25% less than the monthly expense of running a petrol-powered outboard. As a result, fishermen can save costs for fuel and hence, increase their profit. Read more…

Actors & Innovators

New Economic Opportunities through Innovative Solutions for Better Mobility, Clean Energy, and Safe Water

In Kenya’s Lake Victoria region, only about 35 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water. Only 20 percent is connected to a central power grid. Transporting people and goods is often a challenge in very rural areas. Another major hurdle facing the country is its high rate of youth unemployment, which currently stands at more than 20 percent.

WeTu is a social enterprise founded by Siemens Stiftung in Kenya that works on innovative solutions for supplying energy and drinking water in communities on Lake Victoria. WeTu’s services include solar-powered fishing lantern rentals, the sale of clean drinking water, and e-mobility solutions. The cashless payment systems help to increase the number of customers. These solutions are improving living conditions in the region, creating jobs, and establishing new economic opportunities. Read more…

Environmentally Friendly Cold Storage for Fish in Kenya

In Kenya’s growing Lake Victoria region, fish is an important source of protein. After it is caught, fish is either eaten locally or transported overland to the capital, Nairobi. Along this route, producers do not have sufficient facilities for cold storage of the fish. If the fish cannot properly be cooled directly after catching it spoils on the shores of the lake. With the right cooling infrastructure, more fish can make it to the market and fishermen can earn more for their catches.

Through a partnership with the private sector, the Green Cooling Initiative (GCI) has designed and build a Fish Cold Store in Kenya on the shores of Lake Victoria as a best-practice example to promote sustainable development, particularly in rural areas. The Fish Cold Store is solar-powered and based on natural refrigerants to make it not only climate friendly, but also energy-efficient and cost-effective. Transport crates filled with ice flakes produced on site additionally enhance the quality of transport and maintenance of the cold chain. Read more…

E-mobility Helps to Increase Fishermen’s Income and Preserve Lake Victoria

Inefficient, inconvenient, unreliable and highly polluting petrol outboard engines cost Lake Victoria small-scale fishermen a fortune. The start-up ASOBO offers them to swap petrol outboard motors for electric engines or e-Boarders powered by renewable energy and comparable in performance to their petrol equivalents. The upfront cost can be high, so ASOBO provides its e-Boarders on a pay-as-you-go basis. The rental model, including the full financing of the system, daily recharging of the batteries, all necessary maintenance and repairs, training of boat owners and crew and a 24/7 helpline with rescue back-up, allows the fishermen to increase their income while preserving the environment. Beyond Kenya, the company is already equipping fishermen on the Cape Verde Islands and in South America with fully electric motors but aspires to expand this model to emerging markets all over the world. Read more…

Publications & Tools

Fuel and Energy Use in the Fisheries Sector: Approaches, Inventories and Strategic Implications

This publication addresses the utilization of fuel energy by the global fisheries industry. It explores the complete supply chain from aquatic raw materials to consumption, including capture fishing, aquaculture, post-harvest activities, distribution and retail presentation. This is the first such global overview that provides initial data to demonstrate a range of critical characteristics and trends, with implications for sector development and relevant policy and strategic investment needs.

Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries: Showcasing Applied Practices in Value Chains, Post-Harvest Operations and Trade

This technical paper on sustainable small-scale fisheries was prepared under the auspices of the FAO Umbrella Programme for the Promotion and Application of the SSF Guidelines – Enhancing the Contribution of Small-Scale Fisheries to Food Security and Sustainable Livelihoods (SSF Umbrella Programme). The paper delves into the topics of capacity development, women empowerment in the sector; reducing post-harvest losses and adding value to small-scale fisheries production; and facilitation of sustainable trade and equitable market access. This document includes nine case studies that showcase applied practices and successful initiatives, and present critical analysis of the relevant enabling conditions, challenges and opportunities in order to replicate the good practices in other fisheries and development contexts. The studies aim to support national and international policies and policy processes to enhance small-scale fisheries value chains, post-harvest operations and trade.

Fishery Improvement Projects as a Governance Tool for Fisheries Sustainability: A Global Comparative Analysis

Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs) are a form of private governance using seafood supply chains to reduce environmental impacts of fishing in some of the most challenged fisheries. Based on a global sample of 107 FIPs, the study “Fishery Improvement Projects as a governance tool for fisheries sustainability: A global comparative analysis” systematically examined their reported actions, the actors involved, and their achievements in terms of policy and practice outputs. The analysis also outlined key areas where further work is needed to understand how FIPs can improve their contribution to global fisheries governance in the future.

Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries

The Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines) are the first international instrument dedicated entirely to the immensely important small-scale fisheries sector. This fundamental tool aims to secure sustainable small-scale fisheries and enable the sector to contribute to eradication of hunger and poverty. The elaboration of the Guidelines was based on a long and intensive global bottom-up consultative process.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Muir, J.F. 2015. Fuel and Energy Use in the Fisheries Sector. Approaches, inventories and strategic implications. FAO.
  2. Zelasney, J., Ford, A., Westlund, L., Ward, A. and Riego Peñarubia, O. eds. 2020. Securing sustainable small-scale fisheries: Showcasing applied practices in value chains, post-harvest operations and trade. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 652. Rome, FAO.
  3. Chabari, F. 2019. Opportunities for solar cooling technologies in the fresh fish value chain in Turkana County, Kenya: A study by Powering Agriculture. GIZ. Unpublished.