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In 2021, Canada's fishing vessels emitted 181 kilotons of CO2 equivalent nationally, according to Fisheries and Oceans.

A movement for the electrification of fishing fleets

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Lobster fisherman Stephan LeBlanc wants to convert his boat with hybrid electric propulsion. During the last fishing season, his boat consumed 9,000 liters of diesel over a period of 60 days.

  • Nicolas Steinbach (View profile)Nicolas Steinbach

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Stephan LeBlanc, a lobsterman from New Brunswick, consumed 9,000 liters of diesel in two months during the last fishing season. He is now considering converting his fishing boat to hybrid electric propulsion.

Fishing is an industry that is present in all our communities, it can have a huge impact if we apply this transition to the entire fleet or a large part of the fleet, says Stephan Leblanc, lobster fisherman at the Cap-Pelé wharf in southeastern New Brunswick.

He could become the first fisherman in his professional association, the Maritime Fishermen's Union, to make the transition.

The organization, which represents 1,300 fishermen, hopes that this project can serve as a model and inspire other fishermen for the next generation of hybrid lobster fishing boats.

It just comes from my conscience, my lifestyle which is already more ecological, says the fisherman.

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Stephan Leblanc's lobster boat is currently in dry dock for routine work. The conversion to a hybrid engine would cost, according to the fisherman, between 150 and 300,000 dollars.

After two years of exploratory research, Stephan LeBlanc hopes to be able to begin work on converting his boat with hybrid electric propulsion in the near future.

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My transit would be about three hours a day and my fishing around seven to eight hours would be electric, he says.

Electric propulsion would take over during fishing activities at sea, with the help of batteries installed in the ship's hull, while the diesel engine would be used more to get from the dock to the fishing area.

He estimates fuel savings of 30 to 40% per year.

One of the companies that specializes in the electrical conversion of ships in the Maritimes is Aspin Kemp & Associates in Prince Edward Island.

The company designed its first inshore lobster fishing boat called the Hybrid I which has just finished its season with fishermen from the Passamaquoddy First Nation in the Bay of Fundy.

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On July 20, 2023, the Hybrid I departed Prince Edward Island to be delivered to the Passamaquoddy First Nation in southwestern New Brunswick for use as a lobster fishing vessel.

The boat is performing as expected and they are very happy with its performance, says Aspin CEO Kemp & Associates, Jason Aspin.

The company estimates that the market is important in this region with 14,000 boats in the Atlantic which could be candidates for this type of technology. However, Jason Aspin is tempering expectations. It's really going to depend on public funding and how the technology evolves, he says.

Aspin Kemp & Associates does not have a hybrid fishing boat under construction at the moment and this is a deliberate choice. We don't expect to have it on the market any time soon. We first want to optimize the system and a lower price and it will still take some time for our company to do research and development, says Jason Aspin.

The supply chain is still slow and the company estimates delivery times of six to twelve months.

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Aspin-Kemp & Associates CEO Jason Aspin.

And then there is the price. The company would like to be able to convert boats under $200,000.

If you have a boat that costs you 40,000 dollars in gas and you save, let's say 30% in hybrid mode so 12,000 per year then it's going to take a lot of time to finance the transition. So we will need funds if we want to move towards this kind of boat and it will depend on where the government puts its priorities, argues Mr. Aspin.

Currently, Ottawa can provide funding up to a maximum of 75% of eligible project costs, up to $1 million per year through its Clean Technology Adoption Program for Fisheries and aquaculture.

The Atlantic Fisheries Fund also contributed more than $3 million to the Island Fishermen's Association -of Prince Edward Island in 2022 to test electric and hybrid propulsion technologies for lobster fishing.

At the current price, it's definitely not profitable, especially since we have a season of only 60 days, says Pierre Dupuis, general manager of Homarus, the scientific branch of the Maritime Fishermen's Union.Open in full screen mode

Lockers and boats at the Aboiteau quay, in Cap- Pelé where Stephan LeBlanc fishes, a few days before the start of a new lobster season in zone 25.

Homarus is collaborating with Stephan LeBlanc on the project electrical conversion.

One ​​of the reasons we haven't started yet is that I found the risks a little high for Stephan to embark on this project and that's This is where we are still doing studies to see where the existing projects will end up, indicates Pierre Dupuis.

At the Maritime Fishermen's Union, it is estimated that it will take a decade for a fisherman to recover the money invested in the conversion.

We also recognize that fishermen are wary of technology that has not yet proven itself and of the lack of space on boats to accommodate both diesel and electric engines, as well as batteries. . We also wonder about the weight that could affect the balance of the boat.

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Pierre Dupuis, director of Homarus, in Shediac, New Brunswick.

But Pierre Dupuis is far from throwing in the towel and is watching the work on the Hybrid I with interest.

I think it's a very long-term goal [to convert the fleet to electric propulsion], but I think it's a short-term goal , we can have several fishermen adopt the new technology

Stephan LeBlanc also agrees that there are still many barriers and above all a real enthusiasm fishermen, associations and the political class.

There is money available, but we have not ensured that there are suppliers who are ready to do this kind of work. So I think we are behind public transport, we are behind other sectors like private cars and other industries which are already there, says Stephan LeBlanc.

The situation will change when the price of fuel increases, believes the fisherman.

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