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Assessing broad life cycle impacts of daily onboard decision-making, annual strategic planning, and fisheries management in a northeast Atlantic trawl fishery



Capture fisheries are the only industrial-scale harvesting of a wild resource for food. Temporal variability in environmental performance of fisheries has only recently begun to be explored, but only between years, not within a year. Our aim was to better understand the causes of temporal variability within and between years and to identify improvement options through management at a company level and in fisheries management.


We analyzed the variability in broad environmental impacts of a demersal freeze trawler targeting cod, haddock, saithe, and shrimp, mainly in the Norwegian Sea and in the Barents Sea. The analysis was based on daily data for fishing activities between 2011 and 2014 and the functional unit was a kilo of landing from one fishing trip. We used biological indicators in a novel hierarchic approach, depending on data availability, to quantify biotic impacts. Landings were categorized as target (having defined target reference points) or bycatch species (classified as threatened or as data-limited). Indicators for target and bycatch impacts were quantified for each fishing trip, as was the seafloor area swept.

Results and discussion

No significant difference in fuel use was found between years, but variability was considerable within a year, i.e., between fishing trips. Trips targeting shrimp were more fuel intensive than those targeting fish, due to a lower catch rate. Steaming to and from port was less important for fuel efficiency than steaming between fishing locations. A tradeoff was identified between biotic and abiotic impacts. Landings classified as main target species generally followed the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) framework, and proportions of threatened species were low, while proportions of data-limited bycatch were larger. This improved considerably when reference points were defined for saithe in 2014.


The variability between fishing trips shows that there is room for improvement through management. Fuel use per landing was strongly influenced by target species, fishing pattern, and fisheries management. Increased awareness about the importance of onboard decision-making can lead to improved performance. This approach could serve to document performance over time helping fishing companies to better understand the effect of their daily and more long-term decision-making on the environmental performance of their products.


Fishing companies should document their resource use and production on a detailed level. Fuel use should be monitored as part of the management system. Managing authorities should ensure that sufficient data is available to evaluate the sustainability of exploitation levels of all harvested species.

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  1. Products are defined by species (e.g., cod, haddock), size (e.g., cod 1–2.5 kg; cod 2.5–4 kg), processing forms (e.g., J-cut), and certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or not certified.


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We are most grateful to Jan-Roger Lerbukt and Håvard Sigvaldsen for opening up the “environmental accounting system” of the trawler Hermes for us and for taking the time to explain their fishery to us. The work was funded by EU FP7 project WhiteFish (Grant agreement 286141).

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Correspondence to Friederike Ziegler.

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Responsible editor: Henrikke Baumann

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Ziegler, F., Groen, E.A., Hornborg, S. et al. Assessing broad life cycle impacts of daily onboard decision-making, annual strategic planning, and fisheries management in a northeast Atlantic trawl fishery. Int J Life Cycle Assess 23, 1357–1367 (2018).

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  • Bycatch
  • Cod
  • Fuel
  • Haddock
  • LCA
  • Fisheries management
  • Shrimp
  • Trawling