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Removing plastic and waste from our seas

Fishing for litter (FFL) is a scheme allowing fishermen to deliver plastic and waste they have picked up from the sea while they are out fishing. This global voluntary project opened their ninth disposal plant on the Lerøy quay in Stamsund.

- “There have been so many reports in the media about the problem of plastic in the sea.” Børre Pettersen shows us a vast bag filled with 190 kg of worn and damaged nets. A local fisherman pulled this on board earlier this year and handed it in to the relatively new Fishing for litter plant at J. M. Johansens vei in Stamsund.

Børre Pettersen says that there seems to be no limits to what they can find floating on the sea. Most of the waste they receive comes from the fishing industry. Photo: Marius Fiskum

Børre is employed by Lerøy and is also responsible for the Fishing for litter facility. He finds it very upsetting to see images of fish and birds damaged or dead because they have confused floating pieces of plastic and waste in the sea with food.

- “We can definitely see the need for change,” he says seriously.

A global voluntary action for cleaner seas

Børre Pettersen explains that Fishing for litter doesn't have to imply direct action for getting waste on board your boat.

Just walking along the Norwegian coast, you are bound to find all kinds of waste either floating or on the beaches. Ropes and lines, nets from boats, plastic and oil cans are common sights. Norway is not alone with this challenge – practically every country in the world has the same experiences.

And it was these challenges involving marine waste that prompted Danish KIMO (Municipalities for Sustainable Seas) to launch a new environmental programme as early as 2004, giving birth to Fishing for litter.

This is Fishing for litter (FFL)
  • Plastic in our seas is a worldwide issue, particularly now that it is in focus in the media. One example is the “plastic whale” that beached on the island of Sotra near Bergen. The plastic whale was a goose-beaked whale that was found very unwell and had to be put down. It emerged that the whale’s belly was full of waste, and the whale became a symbol of the problem that is now affecting all animals in our oceans.
  • Fishing for litter is a global voluntary and collaborative project to remove waste from the fishing industry from the sea. The aim of the project is to clear our seas of waste, and sort as much of this waste as possible for recycling.
  • Eight countries are part of the project: the Netherlands, the UK, the Faeroe Islands, Ireland, Norway, Germany, Spain and Belgium. In 2016-2017, a total 470 tonnes of waste were removed from the sea under FFL.

In Norway, FFL was implemented as a pilot project for 2016-2017, administered by SALT on assignment by the Norwegian Environment Agency. Since 2018, the project has been financed via the Norwegian Environment Agency's funding schemes for receipt of marine waste.

There are nine Fishing for litter facilities in Norway. These are located in Tromsø, Ålesund, Egersund, Karmøy, Hvaler, Måløy, Stamsund, Austevoll and Båtsfjord. This photograph was taken on the quay in Båtsfjord. Foto:Lerøy

-  “As a seafood supplier, clearing plastic and waste from the sea is of high relevance for Lerøy – to promote fish health, nature and as a natural extension of running a responsible business that involves operations at sea,” explains Børre Pettersen.

Fishing for litter in Norway:
  • In 2016-2017, a total 48 tonnes of waste were removed from the sea in Norway under FFL.
  • In 2018, this figure was more than three times as high, with a total 175 tonnes of waste collected from Norwegian waters. A corresponding volume is expected in 2019.
  • A total 66 ships took part in the project in 2018.
  • In total, the volume of waste for recycling was 46.7 tonnes in 2018.
  • There are nine FFL facilities in Norway: Tromsø, Ålesund, Egersund, Karmøy, Hvaler, Måløy, Båtsfjord, Austevoll and Stamsund.
  • The project is run in cooperation with local businesses in the harbours, such as Lerøy in Stamsund, where the project is also organised in collaboration with Jangaard Export. LAS (Lofoten avfallselskap, a waste enterprise) and Østbø also collaborate in relation to transport and waste management, in addition to Nofir.
  • The facilities on the Lerøy quay and at Jangaard Export in Stamsund have received around 400 kg of marine waste in total so far in 2019.

Action for cleaner seas

Other specific clean seas actions include the beach tidying week, an annual national project in collaboration with Hold Norge Rent (keep Norway clean), in which Lerøy takes part. For more than 10 years now, Lerøy has participated in projects to pick up waste, plastic and rubbish along the coastline in Norway. As motivation for others to also take part, Lerøy raffles off NOK 100,000 to activity and sports clubs who register for actions and take part via Lerøy.

An internal project, known as 50/50-5 has also been implemented, aiming to reduce the use of non-recyclable plastic at Lerøy by 50 percent over the next five years. Active efforts are under way to introduce new types of packaging to optimise use of plastic where possible.

Dreading the consequences for humans and animals

Hilde Rødås Johnsen is an FFL project manager at SALT and explains how the project was inspired by the ever-increasing problem of plastic in our oceans:

- “Plastic in the sea is a problem that can have major consequences for numerous species living in and around our seas. We have seen examples of fish and whales with huge quantities of plastic in their stomachs. We have seen a horrific impact on some animals and birds, and we dread the consequences this could ultimately have on us humans, for example in the form of microplastics.

Clearing and protecting our oceans is imperative for both humans and animals.

SALT works with research, communication and advice related to seas and the coast, with specialised expertise in marine sciences. They are responsible for planning, organisation and execution of FFL in Norway, and for monitoring ships, boats and receipt of waste under the project.

More specifically, they are responsible for the coordination of all parties involved and for making sure the project functions as intended.”

Dispose of waste collected at sea free of charge

Fishermen and fishing boats have to be registered to hand over waste they have collected at sea. This is one of Børre Pettersen’s jobs, as the person responsible for the local FFL facility in Stamsund.

The waste handed in shall be sorted in different bags marked to show contents and weight, and this is checked at the facility.

At this facility in Stamsund, they have just received the first delivery of marine waste this year. A lot of the waste – when it is properly sorted and handed in to the right place – can be recycled. Photo: Marius Fiskum

One of the challenges for FFL is to get information out to those who need it, mainly fishermen. It has not been a problem getting people to take part, and Børre Pettersen can confirm that the project was in demand by both private persons not registered as fishermen and businesses long before it actually started. He frequently was asked what people could do with the waste they had collected while out at sea.

- “Some people would have waste in their nets, while others would bring plastic canisters they had found on beaches and wondered if they could hand them in to us. Just now, you have to be registered to make use of the FFL scheme. We hope the scheme will be extended, allowing us to take in even more waste,” he says.

He also believes it would be a good idea to allow fishermen to hand in worn nets that have to be replaced – as a preventive measure.

- “It seems a shame that we can only receive fishing nets that have been disposed of at sea under FFL.”

Change of attitude towards plastic and marine waste

In recent years, a change in attitude has emerged, not only among those working in the fishing industry, but among the general public as well. Børre Pettersen has gained the impression that most of us feel it is very wrong to throw things away at sea – and in fact, it is not only fishermen but also the general public who are perfectly willing to take a detour with their boat to pick up something they have seen floating on the water.

Børre Pettersen would like to see even more people making use of the free disposal service.

- “Before, the system was that you had to collect, sort and transport any waste to a waste company and pay for disposal from your own wallet. I’m sure this discouraged some people from doing so. It’s therefore really important to get across the fact that there is absolutely no charge involved in handing in waste to the FFL facility,” Børre says.

Read also: Cleaning Up Plastic in the Sea