Who even knew that fishing nets were still made of plastic? With consumers becoming more and more aware of the dangers of plastic, what impact do plastic fishing nets cause?
According to Sea Shepherd Global, discarded fishing nets, ropes, lines, fishing crates, fishing baskets and fish aggregating devices are the single biggest sources of plastic polluting our oceans and injuring/killing marine life.
What Materials Are Used For Fishing?
Unfortunately, many people aren’t aware that modern fishing nets are made from synthetic fibres – nylon, polymer are two types. Researchers have also found that more than 90 per cent of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs.
Fishing gear unfortunately, is specifically designed to catch marine life and this means that any discarded gear can continue to catch, injury and kill these animals for years ongoing. ‘Ghost fishing’ – whereby all these leftover or ‘ghost’ fishing gear end up impacting vulnerable species.
This includes rays, seabirds, sharks, mammals, turtles and the like.
Why Are Fishing Nets Made Of Plastic?
Fishing nets are made of plastic for several reasons:
- Cheap to manufacture
- Works as intended – to catch marine life
- Doesn’t decompose or break down.
Unfortunately, this means that plastic fishing gear can stay in the ocean for decades or centuries as it breaks down into macro and microplastics. These can be ingested by wildlife and cause injury, illness or death.
These days, lightweight plastics are present in almost all fishing gear due to their durability and low cost. It also helps with being so light.
How Much Plastic Is In The Ocean?
According to research, 100 million marine animals die each year from plastic related issues. 100,000 are entangled each year and die and 12-14,000 tons of plastic are ingested by North Pacific fish alone yearly.
Unfortunately, there are too many amounts of plastic in the world’s oceans – from large waste to micro plastics. It’s estimated that there is around 269,000 tons of macro and micro pieces of plastic across all the oceans.
This is around eight million pieces of plastic ending up in the ocean EVERY day! The damage this can do to our marine life and quality of water is astounding. With the time it takes for plastic to completely break down or even degrade into microplastics being decades and or even centuries, our oceans will just continue to become more and more polluted.
This is extremely dangerous for our marine life across the world who can ingest microplastics, be tangled or suffocated by larger plastics or choke on plastic. Larger plastics can even cause fatal injuries by wrapping around necks, legs and other body parts.
How Long Does Plastic Take To Break Down?
Plastic takes a long time to decompose due to how it’s manufactured and the materials it contains. Most plastics are made of polyethylene terephthalate or PET, which is virtually indestructible as bacteria can’t break them down.
For materials to be able to break down or decompose, typically they need to contain organic or raw compounds that can be broken down by microbes or UV light. Nature needs to recognize them!
Plastic made from petroleum which is the end product of millions of years of once-living organisms decaying, has a manufacturing process which completely changes this material so that it can no longer be broken down.
Plastics made from propylene (most plastics) are unable to be broken down because they are heated which makes the individual chemical components link together, forming extremely strong carbon-carbon bonds with each other. Nature doesn’t understand this and so it cannot be broken down.
In water, they do manage to break down but take a long time, plus end up as macro and microplastics.
What Are Some Solutions To These Problems?
To reduce the use of plastic in fishing, we must have alternatives and have buy-in from fishermen and women. There are options such as natural materials or biodegradable bags at a fifths market.
Researchers working in the European project, BIOGEARS,- have developed compostable aquaculture ropes. Project Coordinator, Leire Arantzamendi Egiguren said that their first net prototype developed with BIOGEARS “contains bioplastic materials of natural origin”. This makes them biodegradable and they can thus be “more environmentally friendly and can provide added value to the sector”.
You can also be more conscious or your fishing gear, making sure it’s used as many times as possible, upcycled, not lost in storms or bad weather and you don’t have multiple different fishing gear items if not needed.
For the general consumer, you can also ensure your general plastics don’t end up in the ocean or waterways by disposing of them correctly and also reducing your use of plastics in general.
Fishing is unfortunately a big issue for plastics not only ending up in the ocean but also catching and injuring marine life. Fishing gear gets discarded, left behind or lost, ending up polluting the ocean and killing marine life.
To reduce the impact, fishers can be more conscious of their fishing gear and their options for alternative materials. As a consumer, we can also reduce our plastic usage and be mindful of our disposal options.