We all know about plastic pollution in the oceans: plastic bottle islands in the Far East, microplastics found in fish intestines and, more recently, the plague of discarded face masks being found wrapped around marine animals.
But fewer of us know about the pollution from fishing gear, which can have a devastating effect on marine life. For example, a whale washed up on the Island of Harris in December 2019. Inside it was 100kg of rope, fishing nets and plastic. You can’t help but wonder if that’s why it died.
I first became aware of this problem about 18 months ago when I heard about a charity called Ghost Fishing UK. They were set up in 2015 by a group of divers who wanted to try to remove so-called ghost fishing equipment from the seas around our coast. This is made up of the nets, ropes and pots lost by fishing boats in the normal rough and tough environment in which they operate.
No fishing boat willing loses these things as it costs money to replace them, and they are as aware of the environmental damage as we are. After all, it’s called ghost fishing gear precisely because it carries on fishing, even though there’s no one there to harvest the catch. Many of the fish and sea mammals caught will die, meaning there are fewer fish for the fisherman to catch.
Ghost Fishing UK retrieves tons of this discarded gear. Some of the nets are taken back by fishermen who repair and reuse them, but tangled masses of plastic rope are more difficult to process. They are always looking for innovative ways to recycle this material rather than just shredding it and burning it as (somewhat polluting) fuel.
One of the more interesting solutions comes from a fellow diver who was prompted to do something after diving in a heavily plastic-polluted sea during a salvage operation. He started off by making plant pots from plastics he had personally recovered in his own house and selling them in local markets. Now he has a manufacturer and can process ghost fishing gear from all over the country, which is no doubt how Ghost Fishing UK came to know about him.
This sort of cottage industry can only deal with a small amount of pollution around our coasts, but it’s a great example of what individuals can do with passion and a bit of entrepreneurial instinct.
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