The idea is the brainchild of Macroom E, a company formed by Cork County Council to help small and medium enterprises literally “gain money from old rope”.
The company is a partner in a European project, Circular Ocean, which aims to help turn waste plastic from the sea into a useful resource and involves similar entities from Greenland, Scotland and Norway.
Macroom E programme manager Michelle Green said her organisation was consulting with recycling companies, several of whom are in Cork to see how they can capitalise on discarded fishing nets in particular, which are causing carnage for marine life.
She said companies in Greenland were looking at recycling the fibres from waste nets to use instead of steel in reinforced concrete.
“Ghost fishing nets (those left in the sea) are still catching fish and parts of the nets are ending up in the food chain,” Ms Green said.
“We are involved in research and compiling reports about what the government here can do about this.
“We are also talking to a wide range of companies around the world connected with recycling nets and hoping to inspire Irish companies to get into this type of recycling and to support them.”
She said a number of Irish companies had already expressed interest in taking the challenge onboard and they would be invited to Alesund, Norway on September 1-2 to an exhibition showcasing what can be done.
“However, we will need to put systems in place whereby we have a collection system (for nets and ropes), a segregation system and recycling into other products,” Ms Green said.
It has been estimated that over 8 million tonnes of litter ends up in the ocean every year.
An estimated 15% of it is floating on the surface while 15% is washed ashore and the remaining 70% sinks to the seabed.
Fishing-related equipment has been assessed by experts to be the most harmful type of litter to seabirds, mammals, and turtles, with the economic damage of marine plastic waste estimated almost €12 billion.
Ms Green said, over the next three years, the project partners will be working with local enterprises to provide and share information and ideas to guide communities on how best to harness discarded nets.
A shocking report two years ago from conservation organisation Oceana disclosed what was described as staggering levels of waste caused in US fisheries, alone.
The report believes in the largest of the north Atlantic fisheries, up to two billion tonnes of fish and other species die needlessly every year.
Waste nets in particular also kill huge numbers of dolphins, sea turtles, whales, sharks and other endangered species.
The report covers by-catch, the capture of “non-target fish and ocean wildlife” either by accidentally catching unwanted species or by catching too many fish.
The most by-catch, the report found, came from three types of fishing operations — those that employ open ocean trawl, longline nets or gillnets.