Catching the fishing gear before it becomes a hazard for marine environment

Fishing gear and single use plastics are major contributors of marine plastic pollution in Europe. What can be done to mitigate the impacts of fishing gear to this problem? International cooperation is needed to find solutions to keep plastic pollution at bay.
Käystöstä poistettuja kalastusverkkoja
End-of-life fishing gear waiting for processing at Sotenäs marine recycling centre

Many single use plastics have been replaced recently with items made from other materials to prevent marine plastic pollution. However, sturdy and durable plastics are still essential for fishing gear, so the same approach can’t be applied for example to fishing nets. In order to prevent them from ending up in the seas and degrading their environmental state, end-of life fishing gear should be collected as they approach their “best before date”. EU-funded CIRCNETS project supports collection of end-of life fishing gear and giving them a new life through recycling.

Setting up a collection system for end-of-life fishing gear can be challenging, especially in the sparsely populated areas of the Europe, where distances are long and population density is low. Solutions, or models, based on which it could be done, might have to be searched from further away. That was the reason why partners of the CIRCNETS project held the kick-off meeting of the project in Sotenäs, on the west coast of Sweden, in end of April. The municipality is home for many famous Nordic fish food brands, but also to the only dedicated marine recycling center in Sweden. “We have done this for 5 years already and we are confident that our experience can help in setting up similar systems in other parts of Europe as well”, confirms Louise Staxäng-Torbäck from Municipality of Sotenäs, Sweden, which has been a pioneer in the field of collection and handling of end-of-life fishing gear.

“Our coastline is the second longest in the world, and over a third of the marine litter that end up on our shores is fishing gear waste,” tells Siv Marina Grimstad from Norwegian University of Technology and Science. Collecting drifted fishing nets from the coast is one way to address this issue, but the nets should not end up in the sea in the first place, more should be done for that. And there might be a solution in the horizon, as extended producer responsibility (EPR) will be extended to cover also plastic containing fishing gear. This brings great changes for the fishing sector, as Jenni Ylä-Mella from University of Oulu, Finland explains: “Producers and importers have to set up a collection system for end-of-life fishing gear. In Finland we have returned empty bottles for decades and done the same for used electronic appliances for well over ten years. Now we must do the same with old fishing nets.”

Setting up a collection system for end-of-life fishing gear will undoubtedly improve the state of the seas, as these nets do not end up there as ghost nets and sources of microplastics as they gradually compose. However, implementation of EPR and its impacts on the fishing sector are not well known yet, which is confirmed by Ian Brannigan from the Western Development Commission, Ireland: “There is a lot of uncertainties and need for accurate and up-to date information regarding this in the field.” On the other hand, this opens up opportunities as well: recycled nets can be utilized in making of new products in the in the spirit of circular economy. This challenge has been embraced by many producers, who are using recycled materials. One of these is Icelandic company called MarEco, whose director Atli Josafatsson sees great possibilities in this area: “We aim to produce new fishing gear by using recycled materials from old fishing nets.”

One key aspect in giving the collected fishing gear a new life, is the technologies and methods, which can be used to process the materials. “There is a lot of potential raw material for secondary use, but a lot of them is exported to Denmark and other countries, where they are processed”, says Alex Wan from University of Galway, and continues: “we want to process them here, which is more sustainable and it creates also business opportunities for our region.” The CIRCNETS project is just in the starting phase, but the partners are eager to find out more, how they can contribute to the well-being of the seas. The reuse of the collected materials will also further circular economy and economic development in the northern, peripherical and arctic regions of the Europe.

CIRCNETS project, funded by EU’s Northern Periphery and Arctic 2021–2027 programme, brings together experts and specialists from different fields across the Europe to support collection, treatment and recycling of end-of-life fishing gear. The project partnership is made of University of Oulu (Finland), MarEco Ltd (Iceland), Municipality of Sotenäs (Sweden), University of Galway (Ireland), Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Norway) and Western Development Commission (Ireland).

More information about the project can be found from the project's website.

Last updated: 9.4.2024