Grant helps pay to turn Sitka troller into hybrid electric vessel

As part of an effort to push Sitka’s fishing fleet away from carbon-emitting propulsion, a Sitka troller has received a $40,000 grant to add electric power to augment the diesel power of his classic wooden boat.

The award came through the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, one of three organizations chosen by the New York-based Acme Smoked Fish Corp. for grants to mitigate the effects of climate change. The other two projects are in Maine.

Eric Jordan said his goal is to reduce his boat’s fuel consumption and carbon signature. And he’s far from alone in his project to decarbonize. He’s worked alongside ALFA and Executive Director Linda Behnken to secure technical assistance and funding.

Reducing his boat’s emissions is in line with other climate-friendly actions Jordan has taken — he drives an electric car and heats his home by heat pump rather than oil or gas.

Behnken said cutting the fishing fleet’s carbon emissions has been a long-term goal for ALFA.

“We started in a partnership with the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation to understand fuel usage by the fleet and help the fleet understand ways to reduce fuel consumption, increase fuel efficiency through operational changes, as well as structural changes to the boat. And if they made changes, what kind of returns they could find,” Behnken said.

“We wanted to go the next step of looking at hybrid or zero-emission propulsion for the fleet, and that led us to the ETIPP award to work with the National Renewable Energy Labs to refine our ideas of what next steps should be,” Behnken said. “And we tested — with one boat this summer — electric fishing deck gear that was a way to reduce the electrical needs once we switch propulsion on that boat, and then this winter, we will be switching (Jordan’s) boat to actual hybrid propulsion.”

The diesel engines that have propelled fishing boats for a century operate most efficiently at specific speeds, she noted, but are less than ideal when trolling at low speeds.

Jordan said fuel efficiency is already a priority in his commercial fishing. “This year so far — and my wife just did the calculations — I burned 1,133 gallons (of diesel), which is about as fuel efficient as you can get in a troll operation,” Jordan said Sept. 26.

Jordan is not the first Sitkan to experiment with electric propulsion on a fishing vessel. In 2020, Fabian Grutter converted his longliner, the Sunbeam, to hybrid propulsion, but technical issues and a fire have delayed his project. Jordan and Grutter have discussed their projects with each other, Jordan said.

Acme Smoked Fish Corp., the largest smoked fish purveyor in the country, made its grants as part of its Seafood Industry Climate Award this month.

Behnken said the goal is to power Jordan’s boat electrically when he’s trolling, then swap over to the diesel when moving to and from the fishing grounds. The diesel main can charge the battery bank, too.

“With a low-idle operation system, there’s a lot of fuel savings. So electric engines, electric motors while you’re trolling, while you’re longlining, while you are gillnetting really can save a lot of fuel, and then switching to your diesel engine when you need to charge,” she said.

In Jordan’s case, Behnken estimated that he could cut his fuel consumption by as much as 80% by installing a hybrid propulsion system.

But there’s a hang-up — the batteries and propulsion unit cost $94,000, before installation costs.

“That’s where we’ve been stuck, it’s just so expensive to do some of these first conversions,” Behnken said.

Jordan highlighted the cost of the conversion, too, and was thankful for Behnken’s ability to secure funds.

“The honest truth is that it isn’t cost efficient without some kind of grants or funding from various sources, which Linda is just brilliant about finding,” Jordan said. “So right now, both her and her husband and I are looking at converting to some kind of hybrid diesel-electric.”

All told, he said, he expects the project to cost about $150,000 when the cost of installation is factored in. His troller, the Gotta, is valued at about $150,000.


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