Tackling marine litter and end-of-life fishing gear

Litter and end of life fishing gear in our oceans is creating a challenging problem. The seafood industry is looking at solutions to tackle it.

We also need to find ways to reuse and recycle materials when fishing gear reaches the end of its life. This is an important part of a move from a linear to a circular economy approach, something which will allow us to manage resources in a more sustainable way.

Marine Litter

The European Union estimates that 80-85% of litter in EU waters is plastic and that commercial fishing gear makes up 27% of all beach litter. Both are covered in the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive. This is an important part of its wider EU Plastics Strategy, which aims to have all plastic packaging on the EU market reusable or recyclable by 2030. The Directive takes an ‘extended producer responsibility’ approach. When this comes in manufacturers will be required to cover the costs of waste collection, transport and treatment, as well as measures to raise awareness.

Fishing gear presents a challenge because it may only survive 3-6 months of heavy use. As it becomes worn it can get caught, break apart and sink to the ocean floor. When it is discarded in the ocean it is often called ghost gear. This can trap fish and other marine animals. It is also a hazard for fishing vessels and can damage equipment such as propellers.

The Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) is making a global effort to tackle the issue. It brings together the fishing industry, businesses, NGOs, academics and governments to focus on solving the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear worldwide. Our Head of Responsible Sourcing is providing technical, commercial and governance support to the GGGI leadership through its Expert Advisory Council.

Fishermen are also playing an important role in cleaning up our seas by supporting projects like Fishing for Litter.

Recycling Fishing Gear

When old gear is returned to land it still has to be dealt with. Most ports currently pay to send it to landfill. It would be more sustainable if the material could be 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. Gear is also difficult to recycle as it is made up of many different types of plastic and other materials.

Positive work is already underway with many companies working on ways to recycle old gear. In South West England Brixham Trawl Makers are trialing different ways to break down old gear and Odyssey Innovation are working with harbours to collect old nets and making kayaks out of recycled materials. Fishy Filaments are also 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.

Ocean Plastics Campaign

We’re sharing information on ocean plastic and recycling fishing gear in summer 2020. This includes launching our short film – ‘The Battle Against Plastic Waste’ on World Oceans Day. 

You can watch the film in the Related videos section of this page. If you’d like to download a copy it’s available – along with some video infographics – from the Ocean Plastics category in the Seafish online Asset Bank. (You need to register for an account to download the files).

Further info

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

Read a blog from our Head of Responsible Sourcing on Fishing gear’s place amongst single use plastics


For further information on gear recycling and sustainability contact

Dr Stuart McLanaghan
Head of Responsible Sourcing
07815 427631

For media enquiries contact our Press Office