Alternatives to Fuel-based Lighting for Night Fishing

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Many of the 12 to 18 million artisanal fishermen in the developing world fish at night using kerosene lanterns to attract fish to their nets. The lakes and ocean areas of Tanzania are a major center for this activity, involving over 100,000 lanterns used in 17,000 boats. While conducting fieldwork in these locations, we interacted with 113 individuals, including fishermen, boat captains, boat owners, traders, and local experts to determine current practices. We also conducted user-centered tests of LED-based system usability, performance and energy savings potential in the field (including 121 netting rounds over multiple nights: 73 with LED lighting and 48 with kerosene), and estimated the market sizes for today’s fuel-based lighting and scenarios of transition to improved products in these waterways.

Night fishermen in the areas we studied spend 35% to 50% of their take-home pay on lighting costs (fuel plus lamp maintenance). We found that similar catches could be obtained with battery-powered LED lighting systems, while eliminating fuel costs. The simple payback time for amortizing the LED system investment would be only three to four months. Our results are far more definitive than prior studies, and provide a clearer roadmap for product manufacturers and others interested in deployment.

Due to the combination of higher intensity pressurized lanterns, and longer operating hours, Tanzanian fishermen use as much lighting fuel as would about 1 million ordinary household lanterns (equivalent to one lamp in every sixth home in Tanzania). The corresponding CO2 emissions are on the order of 85,000 metric tons per year, or about 1.3% of the total energy-related CO2 emissions from Tanzania.

We identified a significant market potential for the uptake of LED lighting by night fishermen, which could justify retooling and marketing investment on the part of lighting manufacturers. We estimate an existing expenditure on the order of $70 million per year for fuel and lamps by fishermen across all of Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, Zanzibar, and the ocean coastline on Mainland Tanzania.1 The retail value of LED systems that would provide the same service is $17 to 21 million, plus $6 to $7 million per year in replacement expenditures. A quarter of this market is relatively easy to reach and viewable as a medium-term target. The extent of fuel-based lighting for night fishing around the world is not known, but if even 10% of the artisanal fishermen worldwide night-fished, the global market would be 3- to 5-times larger than Tanzania’s.

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