HomeIdeaFishing gear, marine litter and protection of aquatic ecosystems. The debate...

Fishing gear, marine litter and protection of aquatic ecosystems. The EU debate

The survival of fish stocks and the balance of aquatic ecosystems are seriously threatened by anthropogenic pressure: overfishing, fishing gear abandoned at sea, marine litter.

The European debate on the protection of the seas - on which, among other things, the guarantee of supply of fish resources depends - however continues to neglect the overall impact of the 'fishing factor'.


Marine litter. The great unknown

Marine litter (marine debris, The marine litter) represent perhaps the largest unknown on planet Earth. One can guess - but only partially measure, in the absence, among other things, of shared metrics - the enormity of waste that every year is poured into the seas and floats there, fleet in the water column, settles on the seabed. (1) But you can't even imagine how many fishing gear are abandoned and lost in depth.

The only certainties are the absolute prevalence of plastic - compared to other materials - and its inexorable tendency to degrade into microplastics and nanoplastics. Which, through the fish fauna, become part of the food chain. And they carry with them a variety of toxic chemicals, as well as pathogenic microorganisms.


2.1) Resolution 25.3.21

The European Parliament - with the resolution 25.3.21, on the effects of marine litter on fishing - underlined the urgency of introducing useful measures to reduce marine litter. We need more restrictions on the use of disposable plastic items, in favor of the reuse and use of biodegradable materials.

marine litter 2
Fig. 1. Ghost fishing circle (Oliver Ridley Project, Publications. LINK https://oliveridleyproject.org/orp-mission/resources-and-publications)

We must eliminate gradually expanded polystyrene containers for fishery products and aquaculture. And tackle the problem of nets and other fishing gear - abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) - whose recycling rate is estimated at 1,5%. It is therefore necessary to accelerate the development of a circular economy in these sectors, including through research projects such as EcoeFISHent.

2.2) Marine Strategy Framework Directive, MSFD

The Strasbourg assembly urged the Commission to review the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (Directive 2008/56 / EC, MSFD). To define a new strategic framework that includes all the regulations on waste, including marine ones, and environmental protection. As already foreseen in the Green Deal, EU strategies on biodiversityFarm to Fork, As well as the action plan for the circular economy.

2.3) Strategy for the marine environment, required activities

Resolution 25.3.21 Parliament therefore urges the European Commission to:

- support a model of governance ambitious in the United Nations international negotiations on marine biodiversity, beyond national jurisdictions. To recognize all oceans and seas as a global common good,

- coordinate efforts to adopt an ambitious and legally binding agreement on plastic pollution at the United Nations Environment Assembly,

- integrate various MSFD directives (Marine Strategy Framework Directive), SUP (Single Use Plastics), MSPs (Maritime spatial planning, relating to port reception facilities) and that on maritime planning, (2)

- Adopt voluntary FAO guidelines on the marking of fishing gears to promote responsible management of fishing gears and reduce their abandonment in the environment. (3)

2.4) Fund research

The scarcity of data makes it difficult to assess the impact of marine litter on aquatic ecosystems, fisheries and aquaculture, food safety of products. Parliament therefore encourages the Commission and Member States to:

- increase funding for data collection and research,

- propose effective measures to mitigate the impact of micro and nanoplastics on fish resources and human health.

Fishing gear they must be identified and mapped out with new tools, and this is in fact the main issue to be addressed. Only the registration of fishing materials, their correct disposal and the verification of the balance of mass balances will be able to stem the phenomenon of 'ghost nets' (ghostgear).

2.5) Circular economy in fishing and aquaculture

The development of the circular economy it must include greater support for research to identify suitable solutions to mitigate the impacts of fisheries and aquaculture on the ecosystem. These include the 'intelligent' design of equipment and technological innovation to develop efficient and 'attractive' recycling channels.

Member States should rapidly follow up on the establishment of national minimum collection rates for fishing gear containing plastic, as set out in the SUP Directive. (4) The Commission should instead create an ad hoc funding fund for Member States to establish production chains for recycled and environmentally friendly gear.

2.6) Programs for the collection and management of marine litter

An action plan it should be adopted in Brussels to combat waste dispersed in the EU hydrosphere by reducing it at source. Limit the use and consumption of plastic and thus address the pollution of rivers, waterways and coasts in a logic of prevention. As we have seen, the Commission is indeed preparing to present a plan which is likely to disappoint Strasbourg's expectations. (5)

A special fund for cleaning up the seas should be set up by the Member States in order to finance:

- the collection of marine litter at sea by fishermen, on a voluntary (and paid, or otherwise incentivized) basis,
- the provision of facilities and equipment for on-board storage of waste and its monitoring,
- training of operators,
- the treatment of waste and the personnel necessary for these operations,
- investments in ports, in order to organize reception and storage facilities for abandoned fishing gear and marine litter collected.

2.7) Waste water treatment plants

The treatment plants wastewater and sewage systems should also be improved as an essential measure to reduce the impact of wastewater on aquaculture and fisheries, as well as on the marine and coastal environment in general.

Sufficient resources they must be dedicated to the cleaning of all types of polluting materials derived from plastic. In this regard, it is worth remembering that:

- also Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) modern, as one of the two largest plants in the Lombardy region, are still unable to filter microplastics adequately,

- Municipalities with less than 2.000 inhabitants are still exempt, in the EU, from the obligation to organize waste water treatment.


3.1) Commission's reply 3.8.21 to Parliament

The European Commission - in your own answer 3.8.21 - provides apparently favorable feedback. But the political will of the Parliament corresponds to words whose concrete impact on the ecosystem appears utopian:

- the implementing acts to manage waste on board ships and the reporting / monitoring of passively caught waste, under the Directive on port reception facilities for the delivery of waste from ships, are being prepared,

- several studies are in progress. On the possible revision of the MSFD (Marine Strategy Framework Directive. See note 4) and the application of the MSP directive (Maritime spatial planning), to whom a guide will be dedicated on how to integrate monitoring data and tools into national maritime territorial plans.

3.2) International context

The European executive will continue to support the activities carried out within the Global Partnership on Marine Litter and to 'actively engage' ahead of the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in February 2022.

It will work to adopt a resolution establishing an intergovernmental negotiating committee and a legally binding agreement aimed at tackling plastic pollution in the environment through a circular approach.

3.3) Research and funding

The European Union finances R&D initiatives towards the circular economy through Invest EUHorizon europe and the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund. A series of active projects in Horizon 2020 addresses plastic pollution in various aspects, including exposure to micro and nanoplastics and its impact on human health. Horizon europe provides further research opportunities to build on the results of these projects and address the gaps that persist.

Numerous projects managed by the Commission support data collection and monitoring of waste in the EU and its neighborhood, others support regional plans against littering in the Mediterranean, the Northeast Atlantic, the Baltic and the Black Sea. An implementation plan for the future mission is also being prepared. Horizon europe over oceans, seas and waters.

3.4) Fight against illegal activities

THEexport illegal waste it fluctuates between 15% and 30% of the total, for an annual turnover of approximately € 9,5 billion. In November 2021, the Commission proposed a revision of the EU regulation on the export of waste, to facilitate their shipments to the internal market and promote the circular economy, counteracting illegal export with stricter rules. (6)

Zero tolerance towards illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, IUU) and pollution from discarded fishing gear. The Commission declares that it is engaging with the Member States to consider the most suitable concept to be proposed in the negotiations on the future agreement on marine biodiversity.

3.5) Monitoring and data collection

The technical group on waste is updating monitoring guidelines and baselines for assessing the quantities of all types of waste - including microplastics - on coasts (where work is already completed), in the seabed and in the water column.

In application of the SUP directive, the adoption of a specific act on the reporting of fishing gear placed on the market and on fishing gear waste containing plastic is imminent. The Commission will examine the quality of the data and their sources in order to improve them.

3.6) Disposable plastic items

The first evaluation of the SUP directive (Single Use Plastics) will take place by 3.7.27. In this context, the need for a legislative proposal setting binding quantitative targets for consumption reduction and binding collection rates for fishing gear waste will be assessed.

The Commission it will also ask for the development of harmonized rules on the circular design of fishing gears, to encourage readiness for reuse and recycling at the end of their life.

Accidental losses of containers deserve closer monitoring and 'probably' further initiatives to combat the resulting pollution. Microplastics intentionally used in products will be restricted by chemicals legislation (REACH. See note 7).

4) Concluding reflections

The reduction of marine litter is one of the primary goals of the seventh Environmental Action Program to 2020, adopted by the EU in 2013. However, no measurable results have been achieved so far. They persist overfishing, excessive and illegal fishing, in a sea of ​​plastic. (8)

A relevant contribution can be offered by research projects - such as EcoeFISHentSeaFoodTomorrow, ProFuture -
which aim to enhance co-products (upcycling), produce renewable proteins (microalgae), recover and recycle fishing and aquaculture gear.

A political action more rigorous appears at the same time urgent. On the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), still disconnected from the evidence on the health of seas and fish stocks, but also on the traceability and circular economy of fishing gear. Without neglecting the due diligence, to be applied to operators in the EU for the protection of the planet's seas.

# SDG12, # SDG14

Dario Dongo and Giulia Torre

Cover image from How to get abandoned, lost and discarded 'ghost' fishing gear out of the ocean. The Conversation, 13.8.20


(1) Luisa Galgani, Ricardo Ricardo Beiras, François Galgani, Cristina Panti, Angel Borja. (2019). Editorial: Impacts of Marine Litter. Front. Tue. Sci., 26 April 2019. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2019.00208

(2) In order, dir. 2008/56 / EC, dir. EU 2019/904, 2019/883, 2014/89

(3) FAO (2019). Voluntary Guidelines on the Marking of Fishing Gear. FAO, Rome. ISBN 978-92-5-131312-1.  https://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/CA3546T/

(4) Dario Dongo. Protection of fisheries and marine ecosystems, EU (in) action plan. GIFTS (Great Italian Food Trade). 26.12.21/XNUMX/XNUMX, https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/progresso/tutela-di-pesca-ed-ecosistemi-marini-piano-di-in-azione-ue

(5) Legislative Decree 196/21, which transposes the SUP directive in Italy (see previous article) provides that by 31.12.24 waste from fishing gear containing plastic be managed through the systems established pursuant to the Environmental Code (Legislative Decree 152/06), part IV, or specific systems to be established by decree a provision of its article 178-bis, paragraph 1. The Minister of Ecological Transition sets by decree of a non-regulating nature the national minimum annual collection rate of discarded fishing gear containing plastic for recycling. The regimes established pursuant to this paragraph guarantee that the producers of fishing gear containing plastic cover the costs of the separate collection of the aforementioned tools when they are discarded and transferred to port reception facilities compliant with the provisions transposing the directive. EU 2019/883 or other equivalent collection systems, the costs of subsequent transport and treatment,
as well as those of awareness-raising measures (Legislative Decree 196/21, article 8.4)

(6) European Commission. Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on shipments of waste and amending Regulations (EU) No 1257/2013 and (EU) No 2020/1056. COM (2021) 709 final https://ec.europa.eu/environment/system/files/2021-11/proposal-for-a-new-regulation-on-waste-shipments_0.pdf

(7) EC Reg. 1907/2006

(8) See European Commission June 2020 report on the first implementation cycle of the MSFD, COM (2020) 259 final. See note 4

+ posts

Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

+ posts

Graduated in law, master in European Food Law, she deals with agro-food, veterinary and agricultural legislation. She is a PhD student at the AGRISYSTEM School for the Agri-food System, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, with a thesis on novel food.

Related Articles

Latest Articles

Recent Commenti

Translate »