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The problem with synthetic ropes, fish nets (follow-up to prior post — and there is good news)

This is a follow-up to the prior postThe Switch from Natural Abaca, Hemp Fiber Ropes to Synthetic Ropes.

The Problem

You may have heard about “ghost nets” or have seen the photos of wildlife entangled in marine debris…like the sea turtle below (photo source, US NOAA).

Turtle_entangled_in_marine_debris photo source NOAA

And I know…it may be uncomfortable to look at these photos, but it is a reality with all the marine industry generated trash in our oceans, and we can’t pretend it is not happening.

Sea Birds off the Coast of Mauritania

This type of trash sticks around for a LONG time!

From the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) website on ghost nets:

… the problem of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) is getting worse due to the increased scale of global fishing operations and the introduction of highly durable fishing gear made of long-lasting synthetic materials.

The report estimates that abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear in the oceans makes up around 10 percent (640 000 tonnes) of all marine litter. Merchant shipping is the primary source on the open sea, land-based sources are the predominate cause of marine debris in coastal areas.

Most fishing gear is not deliberately discarded but is lost in storms or strong currents or results from “gear conflicts,” for example, fishing with nets in areas where bottom-traps that can entangle them are already deployed.(Photos below from UN FAO)

The Good News

There are solutions to this problem, and this marine industry trash can be controlled!  But it will take work and commitment from the marine / fishing industry and governments.

Again, from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) website:

  • Financial incentives.  Economic incentives could encourage fishers to report lost gear or bring to port old and damaged gear, as well as any ghost nets they might recover accidentally while fishing.
  • Marking gear. Not all trash gear is deliberately dumped, so marking should not be used to “identify offenders” but rather better understand the reasons for gear loss and identify appropriate, fishery-specific preventative measures.
  • New technologies.  New technologies offer new possibilities for reducing the probability of ghost fishing. Sea-bed imaging can be used to avoid undersea snags and obstacles. Fishing equipment can be expensive, and many fishers often go to great lengths to retrieve lost gear. Technology that makes doing so easier can help. Using GPS, vessels can mark locations where gear has been lost, facilitating retrieval, and transponders can be fitted to gear in order to do the same. Similarly, improvements in weather monitoring technology can be used to help skippers avoid deploying nets when very bad weather is imminent.
  • Just as new synthetic and other materials used in fishing gears have contributed to the ADLFG problem, they can also help solve it. Work is underway to speed up the commercial adoption of durable gear components that incorporate bio-degradable elements. For example, in some countries fish traps and pots are constructed with a biodegradable “escape hatch” that disintegrates when left under water too long, rendering the trap harmless. As this would not necessarily reduce the levels of debris, a reporting and retrieval system should also be adopted.
  • Improving collection, disposal and recycling schemes.  It is necessary to facilitate proper disposal of all old, damaged and retrieved fishing gears, according to the report. Most ports do not have facilities on site that allow for this. Putting disposal bins on docks and providing boats with oversized, high-strength disposal bags for old fishing gear or parts thereof can help remedy this.
  • Better reporting of lost gear.  A key recommendation of the report is that vessels should be required to log gear losses as a matter of course. However a “no-blame” approach should be followed with respect to liability for losses, their impacts, and any recovery efforts, it says. The goal should be to improve awareness of potential hazards and increase the opportunity for gear recovery.

Great recommendations for the problem, and will work if the marine industry and nations work together to carry out these programs!

In the meantime, when deciding what type of rope to use…please consider alternatives.

I understand that for many modern rope use, safety (e.g., life safety codes, load capacity, breaking strengths required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA) and cost factors are first considerations for the type of rope to use.

But if a biodegradable material can fit the needs of the job, why not use biodegradable, natural ropes instead of synthetics?

Related reading and links:

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