Recycling of fishing nets should catch on in Finland too

Fishing equipment and single-use plastics are among the most significant sources of marine plastic litter in Europe. Solutions to the problem are now being sought through international cooperation. The fishing industry is preparing for new regulation that requires it to organise the collection of any fishing nets and traps containing plastic.
Discarded fishing nets in the yard of the marine recycling centre in Sotenäs, Sweden. Photo by Niko Hänninen

In recent years, many industries have been able to reduce the use of plastic, but fishing still requires strong and durable plastic equipment.

"In order to reduce the impact of fishing on the plastic problem in our seas, fishing equipment that is approaching the end of its life cycle should be discarded and properly recycled before it breaks down and becomes a ghost net in the sea," says postdoctoral researcher Jenni Ylä-Mella from the University of Oulu.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is making the collection of fishing nets mandatory in Finland as well. The transition period will continue until the end of 2024. The expansion of responsibility is based on the EU’s directive on single-use plastics i.e. the SUP directive.

“The manufacturers and importers of fishing equipment will be required to establish a recycling system for fishing equipment that will no longer be used. In Finland, consumers have been returning empty bottles for decades and electronic waste for more than ten years. Now the same practice must be applied to fishing nets once they have done their job,” Ylä-Mella says.

From plain collection to reuse

Early in the summer, researchers from the University of Oulu conducted a survey for the fishing ports in the Bothnian Bay and, according to the survey, no separate collection of nets is yet being carried out in the area. In addition, fishers and ports know little about the change in regulation. Twelve ports answered the survey.

“Of course, our extensive inland fishery and the recreational fishers with their cottages are one thing. Finnish legislation has decided to extend the producer responsibility to include inland waters as well, even though the original EU regulation only concerns sea fishing,” says Project Manager Niko Hänninen from the University of Oulu.

The new EPR regulation specifically applies to manufacturers and importers of fishing equipment. They are obliged to organise the collection of fishing equipment containing plastic, but wider recycling and the reuse of materials will not become mandatory, not at this stage at least.

At the same time, researchers are eager to look at the issue more broadly.

“Our international project explores what could be done with the nets collected and how their materials could be recycled and utilised better. Best practices from other regions will help in this,” says Niko Hänninen.

Setting up a collection system for fishing equipment no longer in use is a challenging task, especially in northern areas where distances are long and population is sparse.

In Sweden, for example, the municipality of Sotenäs is a pioneer in the recycling of fishing equipment. The municipality operates Sweden's only marine recycling centre, which receives nets and pots that are no longer in use or have been found floating in the sea in southern Sweden. Ghost nets and traps that are in good condition can be used again after they have been repaired, but traps that have come to the end of their life cycles are dismantled and the reusable plastics are harvested from them and forwarded for reuse. The local fish products include brands that are known to Finnish people, such as Abba. Sotenäs is located on the west coast of Sweden, north of Gothenburg.

The EU-funded CIRCNETS supports the recycling of fishing equipment that is approaching the end of its useful life so that materials collected from the equipment can be reused. CIRCNETS, funded by the Northern Periphery and Arctic 2021–2027 programme, brings together experts from different parts of Europe. The project partners are the Water, Energy and Environmental Engineering research unit of the University of Oulu, MarEco Ltd (Iceland), the municipality of Sotenäs (Sweden), the University of Galway (Ireland), the NTNU University (Norway) and the Western Development Commission (Ireland).

Further information on the project

More about extending producer responsibility to fishing equipment (in Finnish)

Kalastusvälineiden kierrätetystä materiaalista valmistettuja tuotteita

Material recycled from fishing equipment can be used to manufacture many different kinds of products. Photo by Niko Hänninen

Last updated: 3.8.2023