Fishing For Litter: Partnering with the fishing industry to clean up our seas

KIMO International's Fishing For Litter project aims to reduce marine litter by working with the commercial fishing industry. Participating fishing vessels are provided with large bags to collect litter floating on the ocean surface or dragged up in their nets. The bags are unloaded when the vessels come into port and collected regularly, enabling the contents to be recycled or appropriately managed via energy-from-waste incineration or landfill.

The Fishing For Litter initiative was developed by KIMO International, an association of coastal local authorities whose goal is to eliminate pollution from the Northern Seas. It was originally started in March 2000 by the North Sea Directorate of the Dutch Government in co-operation with the Dutch Fisheries Association. KIMO set out to help clear the North Sea of litter, by providing bags to bring ashore litter gathered as part of fishing activities so it could be managed it responsibly on land.

Pilot schemes, operated by KIMO International, were run as part of the Save the North Sea Project in Scotland, Sweden, Netherlands and Denmark until 2005. The Scottish project has remained active ever since and in 2009 Fishing for Litter South West was set up, when fishing industry representatives from Cornwall approached KIMO UK to see if the project could be replicated in Devon and Cornwall.

Fishing For Litter is endorsed by OSPAR as a model for their members to adopt. KIMO also continues to operate Fishing for Litter projects in the Netherlands, Isle of Man, Faroe Islands and the Baltic Sea. Affiliated pilot projects have also taken place in Milford Haven, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Analysis has shown that 11% of the marine litter collected is made up of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear and a further 10% by other ropes and lines. Gear can have a particularly damaging effect on marine-life as it can continue to catch fish, entangle and drown marine animals and seabirds, as well as causing damage seabed habitats – this is known as ‘ghost fishing’. The threats posed to marine animals have been highly publicised and this is damaging to the public’s perception of the fishing industry.

Ghost gear can also cause significant issues for the fishing industry itself, as this type of marine litter can snare propellers and damage gear resulting in loss of fishing time, impacting on income. It can also present a significant health and safety issue, causing challenges for navigation and disrupt vessels at sea. KIMO International estimates that marine litter costs the Scottish fishing industry between €11.5 and €13 million per year, noting that over 70% of UK harbours and marinas reported that their users had experienced incidents involving marine litter.

Since 2005, Fishing For Litter Scotland has collected over 1,408 tonnes of marine litter, involving over 230 vessels across 19 participating harbours. In 2015, the project won the RSPB’s Nature of Scotland Award for Marine Conservation.

Further info

Visit the Fishing For Litter website

Find out more about initiatives tackling marine litter and end-of-life fishing gear