Eight million tonnes of plastics go into the sea each year, among which consists of a large amount of fishing gear according to a recent report published by the European Commission.
In the Pacific Ocean there is an area called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 46% of the garbage is calculated to be lost or abandoned fishing gear, and more than likely “ghost fishing.”
In the European Union, 20% of EU fishing gear is lost or discarded at sea, worldwide that means 640,000 tonnes each year. 27% of all beach litter comes from fishing gear.
So how does the plastic pollution from fishing gear get into our seas?
Well, the report suggests:
- Voluntary Abandonment
Fishing gear gets damaged during fishing operations. Broken pieces of plastic, sometimes microminute or larger come loose from the fishing gear and enters the ecosystem.
Other times there is voluntary abandonment. Irish and UK fishers operating the voluntary Fishing for Litter scheme have recovered tonnes of abandoned gillnets and longlines off their respective coasts with most of it coming from foreign vessels who deem it a waste of time to carry worn fishing gear home and dispose of it properly.
Only 1.5% of worn out fishing gear gets recycled.
Fishing gear can also be lost by accident. Most fishers will make every effort to recover lost fishing gear as it is expensive to replace.
The impact of plastic pollution can be felt right across the board.
The environment suffers because seafloors are polluted which means biodiversity is decreased.
Ghost fishing causes marine life to get trapped and drowned in this gear. There is chemical contamination which has disruptive effects on species.
Human health is also affected. Marine litter is a vehicle for diseases and bacteria causing toxicity in the food chain.
For the fishing industry, 1 to 5 % total revenue loss. 30 million cost for navigation sector through damaged equipment, accidents etc.
630 million has been spent on coastal clean-ups in the European Union and coastal tourism suffers due to dirty beaches and waters.
So what is the EU doing about this?
The EU says it will address this hugely problematic environmental issue by targeting a 30% reduction in marine litter.
It has promised to spend €53 million on tackling fishing gear pollution through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (2014-2020).
One of its aims will be updated rules on port reception facilities where end-of-life fishing gear can be taken for recycling.
It will introduce the mandatory marking of fishing gear along with the mandatory retrieval or reporting of lost fishing gear, similar to the scheme operated by the Norwegian government.
The European Commission will also introduce the Extended Producer Responsibility by making producers more responsible for managing plastic litter from fishing gear in internalising the environmental cost of marine litter, attracting innovation for more sustainable materials and stimulating the recycling market.