Spain is the major fish producer in the EU and the number 20 in the world although it is the second in value because all catches are for human consumption. Likewise Spanish fleet is the most important in the UE in terms of capacity. In the early 60’s Vigo’s shipyards started to build the first freezer trawlers. This was a milestone in the history of the fishing sector not only for Galicia but also for the world because it provided the access to fishing resources which until then were geographically very far but massive and unexploited. Moreover they had been identified in what they called “international waters” with free and total access.

In the early 80’s the scenario previously described changed radically. One of the first big international changes was the extension of the ZEE (Exclusive Economic Zone) of the countries signing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, adopted in the III Conference on the 30th April 1982. From that date countries signing the Convention i.e. those with the largest extractive platform, enhanced their exclusive zone from 12 to 200 miles. Thus, fleets from other countries, which had ever been devoted to fishing like Spanish and specifically Galician, were forced to leave the waters where they had been traditionally working.


In this context, the ship owners tried to get fishing licenses allowing them to continue working in those geographical areas so they found two possibilities:

  • To adopt exploitation contracts and agreements which provide licenses for the development of an activity they had been performing many years ago or
  • To establish joint ventures with a partner of a certain third country with recognized historical rights for fishing. This allowed registering the ships with flags from the estates where the resources are found. This was the most used solution.

This remarkable change in the international legal system happened at the same time than the building of a second generation of freezing trawler vessels. These new ones replaced those built in the early 60’s which were already 20-25 years old. Generally speaking that is the average working life for such fishing units. The added problem was that the new group of ships was technically conceived following similar criteria as the previous ones, taking for granted that the international scenario wouldn’t change in such a way. In other words, they had standard designs not adapted to the characteristics and features of the fishing grounds where they should work; on the contrary they fulfilled the logistic requirements and capacities of a fishing system doomed to failure.

Most of those ships are nowadays registered in third countries. ARVI for instance has 16 companies working in joint ventures with 77 vessels. The essential core of this fleet is made up by 60 freezer trawlers which unloaded around 110.000 Tm., with a related business turnover of  365.437.530,36 € in 2010.

With an average age around 25-30 years for almost the total fishing units all these numbers and economical interests previously detailed and generated per year –including variations- are at risk and need a fleet renovation if they wish to keep on being competitive.



Download in pdf format, the Final Report


There are different reasons which justify the need to strengthen the potential of our deep sea trawling fleet. As a summary we can affirm that from the technical point of view all the big political, legislative and technological changes developed in recent years are far from the last building period of 1985, 86 and 87 when these big vessels were built. We mean that apart from the consequent aging along the time they lack all the innovative systems and equipment which make new vessels more competitive.

  • Current vessels were devised when there were no access restrictions to third countries waters. In other words they were not conceived neither for long working periods –around 6 months- nor to keep in their holds very high tonnages –around 1.000 Tm-.
  • That low capacity means unnecessary fuel consumption because it requires the movement of a huge volume generating a clear energetic inefficiency.
  • Fuel is 40% of the exploitation cost of a shipping company. ACEMIX vessels have engines whose fuel consumption is 20% higher than those of the modern ones to reach the same power. Additionally they use diesel oil while the new generation engines use fuel-oil Info 180, which is a cheaper fuel and it gets more power.
  • The old age of the fleet causes trouble and costs which increase exponentially due to malfunction and structural problems like corrosion, breaking of inner screens, communication among tanks, plate wearing out, etc.


There are other important differences related to the systematic unfulfilling of international legislation in terms of safety and environment adopted after the building of the freezing vessels fleet. So the fleet arouse already with these handicaps which affect both to new vessels as well to the old ones.

More recently the EU created in 2003 a first document from the Commission to the Parliament about the LeaderSHIP 2015 initiative titled: “Defining the Future of the European Shipbuilding and Repair Industry –Competitiveness through Excellence”. This document already settled the principles of a rigorous study about the adaptations and measures to be adopted by the naval sector in view of Horizon 2020.

These measures affect not only to the configuration of the new fishing vessels but also to the equipment and systems to be placed onboard. This fact forces to design and look for more efficient elements from the energy point of view with the aim to reduce wastes and emissions.

Besides the identified modifications which are the most important from a merely technical point of view we cannot ignore others at national and international level which must be taken into account.

Legislation on work safety onboard fishing vessels dates in Spain from 1997 in the R.D.1216/1997. The guide of the International Labour Organization (ILO) published in August 1970 has finally adopted as a rule for the designing of lodging/places in fishing vessels. Therefore the new designs and modifications will have to be adapted to these needs and produce vessels more and more automated for activities such as fish handling, preservation and storage. They should also be safer concerning fishing works by means of automating and reducing the tasks that put the crew at risk and of course making the vessels more comfortable for workers. 


General goals of the project.


  • To provide scientific-technical solutions which allow the renovation of Galician freezer trawler fleet as well as other fleets outside this Association and from other countries. Such renovation means the introduction of improvements in the most out-of-step features by integrating the most avant-garde technical solutions. Thus the necessary competitiveness to keep the current position in the international fishing scene will be brought back to the existent vessels. Moreover Galician fleet will be able to equally strive to maintain its advantage in the face of vessels recently built.


  • To offer an advanced and viable technological answer on four basic questions about the competitiveness of the freezer trawler fleet: energy optimization, onboard activities –fishing & processing- optimization, safety and ergonomics in the ship.


  • To achieve the development of self systems and tools to change and increase the capacity of the deep sea fleet in a remarkable and adapted way depending on the fishing ground.  This effort will be concentrated on a short number of Galician companies which are multidisciplinary and highly skilled in every resource of the ship subject to be improved.

Specific goals:


  • To improve the energy efficiency by increasing the hydrodynamic efficiency of the ship; developing new and more efficient systems and equipment -from the generation of energy till the main consumers- and establishing procedures to be integrated into the ship’s design.


  • To add improvements in the ship’s safety and in environmentally friendly measures by adapting to the new regulation requirements and the development of systems to support the crew in this issues.


  • To improve the ship’s habitability and labour conditions onboard through the establishment of proposals based on ergonomics studies. Such reports should improve the comfort of activities onboard minimize the risk of accidents frequently linked to those operations and increase productivity.


  • To improve functionality and productivity by integrating the auxiliary machinery for fish processing and freezing into the ship. This will be achieved through the innovation and the setting up of new strategies for the systems’ design.