Five ways to tackle ghost fishing gear
Fishing gear lost or thrown into the ocean can account for almost half of all plastic waste that ends up there. But this equipment, which is made for fishing or aquaculture, is no ordinary waste because it continues to do what it was designed to do: trap marine life, with devastating consequences.
Global awareness of the issue is growing, however. In Shenzhen, Karachi and the Mediterranean, for example, diving organizations are removing the nets from the marine environment, while many companies and organizations have sprung up to find ways to reuse the waste.
Before we get into alternative uses for old fishing gear, it’s worth remembering that relying on volunteers to recycle ghost nets will never solve the problem. Fishermen must also get involved to increase the recycling of marine plastics. In Scotland, an organization does this by bringing waste collected at sea to land.
But the most important thing is to prevent fishing gear from being lost in the ocean. Along with monitoring fishing gear and providing financial incentives for recycling, the development and use of alternatives must be accelerated. The most important thing is to make fishermen aware that if non-biodegradable fishing gear continues to be thrown into the sea, no one will win the battle against ghost nets.
The Global Ghost Gear Initiative records reports of lost fishing gear. Statistics from April 1981 to October 2018 show 46,000 items of fishing gear, more than half of these nets entered the ocean (Source: GGGI)
Basic treatment of abandoned nets
Since helping to rescue a sperm whale trapped in abandoned fishing nets in 2017, volunteers from the Shenzhen Diveforlove diving organization have removed marine litter, and especially fishing nets, from the seabed of the neighboring bay of Dapeng.
They have consulted with local fishermen to find out how fishing nets are made and are now recycling old nets into bags, which they use to store waste collected during the dive. It also made the fishermen aware of how their abandoned nets were causing problems.
But the nets tend to be coarse and knotted and cannot be used to make more valuable consumer goods. Diveforlove tries to make similar bags from the finer nets used in aquaculture, but these have to be collected at the recycling center and then cleaned, making the process more expensive and more difficult to market.
In their search for a sustainable way to reuse fishing nets, Diveforlove director Xia Jiaxiang and the team visited plastic recyclers, learning that most recycled plastic nets are turned into plastic pellets before. to be reused. This provided some inspiration and they are now looking for ways to ensure that plastic is used in environmentally friendly products.
Further processing of recycled nets
Many recycled fishing gear can be melted down into plastic pellets that can be used to make new consumer products. Bureo, a company registered in California, is currently working on such a project.
Bureo was founded by three young surfers deeply concerned about marine litter, and was initially funded through crowdfunding. Its products are mainly outdoor items: surfboards, skateboards, sunglasses and toys.
The company not only manufactures its own products, it also supplies its pellets to other companies, which use them in their own products. For example, a company called HumanScale makes an office chair that contains about a kilogram of Bureo plastic from fishnets. Bureo is also working with Jenga to create a version of the popular game with blocks made entirely from recycled fishing nets.
The company has recycling stations throughout Chile, where fishermen can drop off garbage nets. Currently 26 fishing communities are concerned, and since 2013, 185 tonnes of net waste have been collected. Bureo is now working with WWF to expand into Peru, where they are working with fisheries authorities to increase the amount of nets recycled each year to over 1,000 tonnes.
From fishing nets to textiles
50-year-old nylon maker Aquail recycles old fishing nets into textiles. Piles of old nets often accumulate in fishing harbors, and fish farms also use nets with a smaller mesh size to prevent young fish from escaping. Every month, Aquail acquires 400 to 500 tons of nets from ports, fish farms and also seabed cleanup efforts.
After processing, the material is used to make rugs and other textiles. Nets now represent a quarter of Aquail’s recycled materials.
Foam plastics are often used in fish farming, but usually only last a year. They are easily damaged and break down in storms to become marine litter and microplastics.
At an ocean-going fish farm in Weihai, Shandong, foam plastic floats have been replaced with a stronger plastic alternative. Each float supports a chain of oysters worth 500-600 yuan, and so the improved floats reduce the amount of plastic entering the ocean and also protect the oysters.
Plastic floats wait to be installed on the shore (Image: Chen Weijiang)
Chen Weijiang, chairman of the company, explained that their sustainability certification requires regular patrols to verify that no floats have drifted. Li Haifeng, regional representative for SCS Global Services, a sustainability certification provider, says rubber is added to the floats to provide more elasticity and reduce the chance of breakage. An average fish farm requires 2,000 floats, but since newer alternatives don’t degrade, they can also cause problems if they come loose.
Zhang Chun is a senior researcher at China Dialogue.
This article is courtesy of China Dialogue Ocean, and it can be found in its original form here.
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.