Updated: Jun 12, 2022
Many of us divers have come across discarded or lost fishing gear on our dives. Some – myself included – have even had the uncomfortable experience of becoming entangled in this lost gear. Most fishing lines are made from clear nylon, which can be nearly impossible to see as a lone filament and are all too easy to ensnare a wandering fin. Thanks to my buddy and their dive knife, I was able to free myself. Most marine animals are never that lucky.
This equipment was created to catch animals and it continues to do so even when lost overboard, which is known as ghost fishing. Understanding the scale of the issue is one of the first problems we face.
Getting reliable data on the amount of lost fishing gear is a mammoth task, however organizations such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have estimated that abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear in the oceans make up approximately 10 per cent (640,000 tonnes) of all marine litter. Some experts predict a value much higher. That presents an enormous risk to marine life which risks becoming forever entangled and dying as a result. On top of that, discarded nets are prone to smothering reefs, leading to further loss of life. Regardless of the total number, we see videos surfacing online every single day of animals becoming trapped – and those are just the occasions where someone has been able to record the encounter.
The next problem is what to do with the gear if it is retrieved. There have been countless occasions where I have picked up old fishing gear on a dive, only to face the dilemma once back on shore of what to do with the rubbish. Most dive operators will help take this off your hands, but there are some organizations out there that are looking to change the conversation on this topic.
Some companies are now using abandoned fishing gear to create new business opportunities, all while helping us clean up this menace to our oceans. Plastic is a resource like any other and these companies are processing old nets, lines, and weights, to turn them into consumer products. The list of these goods is expanding and included – but is not limited – to sunglasses, underwear, socks, jewellery, sports gear, bicycle accessories, shoes, even carpets. In fact I’m writing this article while wearing my beloved Quicksilver boardshorts, made from recycled plastic fishing buoys.
Here are a few companies that have recently registered on my radar:
Girlfriend (https://www.girlfriend.com/), who use abandoned nets to make leggings, bras, and tops.
Bureo (https://bureo.co/), based in in California, are providing alternatives to virgin plastics by working directly with fishing communities in South America.
Nofir (https://nofir.no/) from Norway are collecting discarded fishing nets from all over Europe and turning them into new plastic materials.
Planet Love Life (https://www.planetlovelife.com/) is making bracelets and earrings out of recycled nets.
Net-works (https://net-works.com/) operates in rural coastal and lakeside communities the Philippines and in Cameroon in Central Africa, enabling these communities to sell recovered fishing nets into the global recycled plastic supply chain.
Fil & Fab (https://www.fil-et-fab.fr/) is a new start up that is developing the first French recycling network for old fishing nets.
Plastix (https://plastixglobal.com/), based in Denmark, transforms used, obsolete and abandoned fishing nets, ropes and post-use rigid plastic into high-quality raw plastic material.
There is so much work to be done in cleaning up our oceans, but if we can incentivise companies to look into capturing and using this ocean plastic, and suitably accrediting its source, I for one and am all for it. Big thumbs up to everyone out there doing what they can to reduce plastic pollution in our oceans. We have a long road ahead of us.