A pilot initiative that encourages fishermen to take ashore litter they catch while at sea is being actively promoted by industry groups in three ports —Clogherhead, Co Louth, and Castletownbere and Union Hall in West Cork.
A number of successful “Fishing for Litter” schemes which are running in Europe not only involves the direct removal of litter from the sea, but also raises awareness of the issue in the fishing industry and local communities.
The pioneering project has expanded from an original pilot scheme in the Netherlands to become a highly recognisable initiative.
For two decades, KIMO, a Local Authorities International Environmental Organisation, has worked to protect, preserve and enhance northern Europe’s marine environment.
The organisation, which represents coastal communities on marine pollution issues, started with a membership of just four authorities, but it now represents over 150 communities in a growing number of countries, including Ireland.
A key underpinning component is the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which requires member states to ensure that properties and quantities of marine litter do not cause harm to the coastal and marine environments.
The project is designed to reduce the amount of marine litter in the seas by physically removing it, and to highlight the importance of good waste management amongst the fishing fleet.
“Fishing for Litter” is a simple idea. Participating vessels are given hardwearing bags to collect marine litter that is caught in their nets during their normal fishing activities.
This reduces the volume of debris washing up on beaches and also reduces the amount of time fishermen spend untangling their nets.
KIMO’s “Fishing for Litter” is an imaginative initiative to reduce marine litter by involving one of the key stakeholders, the fishing industry.
It is being encouraged here through a pilot programme by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), which hosted a workshop on ‘Marine Litter and Derelict Fishing Gear’ in the agency’s Seafood Development Centre (SDC) in Clonakilty, 14 months ago.
Key aims of the workshop were to identify a network of harbours and fishing vessels in the region so that participating boats could land the marine litter caught in their fishing gear and to remove litter from the marine environment.
Stakeholders also looked at industry-based solutions to assist in the prevention, removal and disposal of derelict fishing gear.
Michael Keatinge, BIM’s Director of Fisheries Development, said one of the key objectives of the “Fishng for Litter” initiative is to reduce plastic in the ocean, which the scheme can do at a very practical level.
Marine litter remains one of the most significant problems affecting the marine environment. Some 20,000 tonnes of litter is dumped into the North Sea alone every year.
KIMO says over 90% of the world’s cargo is transported by sea but weather, commercial pressure and communication failure sees 10,000 containers being lost overboard annually.
Plastic, the predominate type of marine litter, can cause entanglement, or be ingested by marine mammals and birds killing 100,000 and 1,000,000 respectively world wide each year.
In addition, fishermen lose countless hours clearing and untangling ships, resulting in lost fishing time. Meanwhile, beaches can quickly become unsafe and unsightly to the public.
Over 212 boats and 15 harbours participate in the Scottish initiative alone. It has resulted in the removal of over 800 tonnes of marine litter from the seas over the past ten years.
That’s enough to fill two Olympic swimmng pools and is the equivalent of bringing more than 35 million empty drink cans ashore.
Facilitated by BIM, local industry groups in Castletownbere and Union Hall recently met with Tom Piper of KIMO UK to hear what the programme has achieved in Britain and what lessons can be learnt to ensure it gains traction in Ireland.
BIM says the response has been extremely positive and local representatives, including the respective Harbour Masters, fishermen, community groups and Cork County Council have been instrumental in its progress to date.
The success of the programme in Britain has demonstrated that the cost of marine litter is not only borne by the marine environment.
It has shown that the cost to the fishing industry is on average €12,000 per boat, each year, through contamination of catches, broken gear and fouled propellers.
Each boat is calculated to take 41 hours a year to remove marine debris from its nets, a significant amount of a boat’s allocated days at sea.
Castletownbere Harbour Master Cormac McGinley said it was delighted to take part in an initiative that fits well with its existing marine waste collection facilities.
“Through BIM and Frank Fleming of Responsible Irish Fish, we are confident we can continue to get fishermen to sign up and take part in this worthwhile programme,” he said During KIMO’s visit to Union Hall, retired fisherman and current BIM board director, Bill Deasy said the “Fishing for Litter” initiative is one of the positive steps which the industry itself is taking to maintain a healthy marine environment for future generations.
Teresa Shanahan, Union Hall Coast Care, said that by removing waste from the sea and preventing the discard of further litter, beaches will become cleaner and safer and the impact on marine wildlife through ingestion, entanglement and contamination will also be reduced.
Union Hall Harbour Master John Minihane has facilitated a designated point in a busy compound where ‘Fishing for Litter’ bags can be kept and collated, ready for safe and responsible disposal of the waste ashore.
Cork County Council provide a number of facilities for effective waste management for the local vessels on the pier.
It is a win for the marine environment and a win for those whose livelihoods depend on quality seafood, he said.
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