Managing end of life fishing gear and aquaculture equipment — Seafish

Managing end of life fishing gear and aquaculture equipment

Fishing gear or aquaculture equipment lost in our oceans creates a challenging problem. We’re working with industry and government to find solutions.
Photo of a pile of fishing near with nets, hoppers and bouys

Challenges with litter in the marine environment and end of life gear

Globally, since the 1950s we’ve produced 9 billion tonnes of plastic and it’s a really versatile material. It can help reduce food waste and lower transport costs, having a positive impact on carbon emissions. But along the way we’ve also created 7 billion tonnes of plastic waste, so we need to look at how we use and manage plastics more sustainably.

Using data from beach litter counts, the European Union estimates that 80-85% of marine litter is plastic. They also estimate that single-use plastic items represent 50% and fishing-related items represent 27% of the total.

Fishing gear presents a challenge because it may only survive several months of heavy use. As it becomes worn it can get snagged, break apart and sink to the ocean floor. When it is lost or discarded in the ocean, it is sometimes referred to as ‘ghost gear.’ This can unintentionally trap fish and other marine animals. It is also a hazard for fishing vessels and can damage equipment such as propellers.

When old gear is returned to land it needs to be managed responsibly. Most ports currently pay to send these items to landfill. It would be more sustainable if the materials could be reused, repaired, or recycled into new products, but there are challenges to overcome before this becomes more widespread. For example, some smaller ports don’t have suitable storage facilities. Also, gear can be difficult to breakdown for recycling, as it is made up of many different types of plastic and other materials.

Finding ways to reuse and recycle materials from fishing gear and aquaculture equipment is an important part of a move towards a circular economy approach. This is where resources are managed in a more sustainable way. The seafood industry is working on solutions to tackle these important issues head-on.

We produced a film called ‘The battle against plastic waste’ to highlight some of the issues and the work underway to address them. It was launched as part of our Ocean Plastics campaign on World Oceans day in June 2020. You can watch the film below:

If you’d like to download a copy of the film it’s available – along with some video infographics – from the Ocean Plastics category in our online Dash media library. (You need to register for an account to view and download files).

Response from government and policy makers

Administrations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have committed to working with industry to develop solutions to collect and recycle end-of-life gear from fishing ports. The four nations have also agreed to collaborate on UK-wide stakeholder engagement on the recycling of end-of-life gear.

England and Scotland have agreed to fulfil a commitment by UK Government to consult on measures such as Extended Producer Responsibility schemes for fishing gear by 2022. They will look to match or exceed the ambition of the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive, which includes consideration of a number of measures relating to fishing gear.

In November 2020, we partnered with Defra, Marine Scotland, DAERA and Welsh Government to hold two UK-wide industry workshops. These workshop provided an opportunity to:

  • Identify the main industry challenges and opportunities associated with delivering more sustainable management of end-of-life fishing gear and aquaculture equipment.
  • Identify the main data and knowledge gaps and build a common baseline understanding of the subject (and likely challenges and threats) across invited stakeholders.
  • Enable the four nations to communicate latest policy thinking and present UK-research findings and recommendations.
  • Share emerging ‘good’ regional practice from relevant UK recycling schemes and understand the drivers for collected material currently being sent abroad for reprocessing.

CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation, has established a Technical Committee to address different aspects of circular fishing gear. Various standards are in development across three CEN working groups. The British Standards Institution has established a mirror committee (SCP/1/4/1) on the circularity and recyclability of fishing gear and aquaculture equipment on circular fishing gear to contribute to CEN’s standards.

Response from industry and wider stakeholders

Three photos of gear recycling case studies showing wire collection on pier, plastic pellets in hand and person on kayak made from recycled plastic

Positive work is already underway on ways to recycle old gear and aquaculture equipment. Brixham Trawl Makers are trialing different ways to break down old gear. Odyssey Innovation are working with harbours to collect old nets and making kayaks out of recycled materials. Fishy Filaments are creating products which can be used by 3D-printers. Outside of the UK, international companies including Plastix and Aquafil are also recycling end-of-life fishing gear into new materials. The fishing industry is also playing an important role in cleaning up other marine litter from our seas by supporting projects like Fishing for Litter.

All these examples are from case studies developed for our 2020 Ocean plastics campaign. These articles are available on our website from the links below:

On the international front, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) is making a global effort to tackle the issue. It brings together the fishing industry, businesses (including UK processors and retailers), NGOs, academia and governments, to focus on solving the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear worldwide. Our Head of Responsible Sourcing is providing support to the GGGI leadership as a member of its Expert Advisory Council. You can find out more about GGGI from their website from the link below:

Further information and contacts

Read a blog from our South West England Regional Manager on getting to grips with gear recycling

For further information on gear recycling and sustainability please contact:

Dr Stuart McLanaghan
Head of Responsible Sourcing
07815 427631