EC launches crackdown on marine litter, ghost fishing

Published on
May 30, 2018

The European Commission (EC) has tabled new measures on derelict fishing gear as well as single use plastics in order to tackle the marine litter problem. 

Estimating that fishing gear – nets, lines, pots, traps, etc. – accounts for 27 percent of all beach litter, the E.C. said that its proposal will encourage all actors involved to get a maximum of derelict gear back to shore and include it in waste and recycling streams. In particular, producers of plastic fishing gear will be required to cover the costs of waste collection from port reception facilities and its transport and treatment. They must also cover the costs of awareness-raising measures.

This new measure, which is in line with EC’s Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, builds on existing rules such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and complements other actions taken against marine pollution, such as under the Port Reception Facilities Directive, it said.

Single-use plastic products covered by the proposal range from food and drink containers to personal care items. Plastic straws and cutlery are among the prohibited items, while food containers and beverage cups are to be reduced. It also introduces measures to increase consumer awareness about the environmental impacts of single-use plastics, and extends the responsibility of producers to bear the costs of waste management and clean up of marine litter.

The proposal will now go to the European Parliament and Council for adoption.

WWF was among those to applaud the move as an “essential step in the right direction,” although the NGO felt that lost fishing gear had not been adequately covered by the proposal.

Simple actions such as clear labeling of fishing gear could have a significant impact in reducing lost gear while helping to prevent illegal fishing, as owners of the gear can be held accountable, it said. 

According to the commission, abandoned, lost, or disposed of fishing gear accounts for about one-third of marine litter found in European seas, or more than 11,000 metric tons (MT) per year. 

“Almost half of the ‘great garbage patch’ in the Pacific Ocean consists of such fishing gear. We estimate that in the EU, 20 percent of gear is lost at sea. The reasons for this loss vary, ranging from accidents, storms and entanglement to intentional abandonment,” it said in a statement.

Fishermen already have the obligation Council Regulation (EC) No. 1224/2009 to retrieve or report lost gear.

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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