Healing the Seas… And Our Diet, Too

Many issues are resulting from modern fishing , but they can be solved to everyone’s benefit.

You think that fishing is a rugged, old fashioned sort of occupation? Rough men brave the seas, the cold, switch night for day, all so they can provide us with tasty, even healthy food. OK, maybe you did hear a thing or two about overfishing, but as a rule people are fairly confident that this was just a little something that sensible people would manage to somehow solve.

And they mostly have. There are several worthy initiatives that aim to protect fish stocks and environmental impact of fishing for the future. The trick is that the future is only a part of this equation- there are important present issues to address and even some past ones.


Ghost Fishing

People are always astonished to learn how much damage lost and discarded fishing gear, left to decay in the world’s seas, can cause. It is estimated that ghost gear accounts for 10 percent of all marine litter, bearing a staggering weight of 640,000 tons, which ends up in our seas every year! Consider this number in terms of hosting a dinner party. If a large fish filet weighs about a pound, you would need a billion fish at your party to balance the weight of abandoned and discarded ghost fishing gear.

This debris is harmful in three ways:

  • Decomposing metals and (micro)plastics can be ingested by marine animals and passed along the food chain all the way to humans.
  • Fish net remnants are a threat for marine animals to get caught in them and many suffer a horrible death. This is known as “ghost fishing”.
  • As some species are more harmed than others, it disturbs natural food chains and eventually marine biodiversity.

If this seems a bit too theoretical, here are some numbers: marine debris affects 86 % of all sea turtle species, 44 % of all seabird species, and 43 % of all marine mammal species. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates 130.000 whales and dolphins become entangled in fishing nets each year.

And mind you, these are not faceless vertebrae with supposedly limited sensitivity — we are talking about are some of the most developed species on the planet that are killed simply through carelessness, neglect, and ignorance.

There’s also the brutal impact of new technologies. Until a few decades ago, fishing nets were made of natural materials that decayed quickly in salt water, but today they are made of extremely durable and practically indestructible plastics and nylons. This means that modern fishing gear will harm the oceans for centuries. Aren’t new technologies supposed to mean progress?

The Really Good Partnership

Luckily, many of the same market and technology principles that have shaped modern fishing are also shaping the sustainable response to its excesses.

Three organizations, each with a different background, have jointly tackled the problem of marine litter. In 2013 they established the Healthy Seas initiative with the “Journey from Waste to Wear” concept. The project covers all aspects from removing marine litter to preventing it from being discarded in the first place, to promoting sustainable industrial practices that make use of recovered fishing gear.

Healthy Seas was founded by ECNC Land & Sea Group, Italian fiber manufacturer Aquafil, owner of the ECONYL brand, and Dutch socks licenser Star Sock.

  • ECNC is a European foundation based in the Netherlands and in Spain, that brings together science, business, governments and non-governmental organizations to preserve biodiversity, healthy ecosystems and bonds between nature and society.
  • Aquafil, one of the leading Nylon 6 manufacturers in the world, has always taken great care to go the extra mile with its corporate responsibility. In 2008 Aquafil established a dedicated Energy & Recycling business unit, tasked to support the Group’s 2400-strong personnel team to incorporate the principles of sustainability, use recycled materials whenever possible, buy low impact or renewable energies and, above all, save energy. Aquafil regenerates the collected nets into patented ECONYL fibres for many uses including performance swimming gear.
  • Star Sock produces sport, outdoor and work socks for well-known brands and is known for its innovations and technical expertise. Respect for the environment, in the broadest sense, is an essential element of its corporate culture.

King Sized and Elected Support

In 2013 and 2014 the Healthy Seas initiative was active in two locations: the North Sea and the Adriatic Sea. A third location in Greece was in the early stages of implementation by late 2014. The project’s main goal is to remove harmful fishing gear from the sea in order to display its deadly impact and to engage stakeholders to ensure it would not happen in the future. Stakeholders include divers, fishermen, academia, media and youth who are influential in establishing better future practices.

Large quantities of discarded fishing gear accumulate at shipwreck sites. There are assumed to be as many as 35.000 along the Dutch coast, some from centuries ago. Obviously, some are more accessible than others, but Healthy Seas divers have managed to recover more than 50 tons of waste nets from 56 wreckage sites. Not only do divers recover ghost gear, but they work hard to promote prevention awareness. They were so successful that Dutch King Willem-Alexander was involved in the presentation of the Healthy Seas promobox.

Metal components of discarded fishing gear typically decompose in the sea, are ingested by marine animals, and may end up travelling along the food chain all the way to humans.

The Adriatic project had 2 locations: Italy and Croatia. An international team of divers worked on a single shipwreck in Croatia for more than a week in 2013 and again in 2014. Between reefs and the harbor of the small fishing village of Krnica, more than two tons of nets were recovered. In Italy the initiative focused on the large port of Ancona — home to a 250-strong fishing fleet. Collection points for used nets were established and eachvessel is expected to deliver about 2 cubic meters annually. Two cubic meters might not sound like much, but it is equivalent to nearly two tons of net. One of the most important parts of the effort was to establish positive attitudes among fishermen, particularly young people.

Following more than a 50 % increase in recovered nets from 2013 to 2014, the initiative is expected to see further growth in 2015 with possible expansion into new countries and even continents.

Infographic Healthy Seas results in 2014

In November 2015, an international conference is reportedly being held in London to bring to a new level of awareness the issue and propose potential solutions. The initiative has also attracted two new corporate partners, Desso and the Kaufland Group, and another charitable one, the World Animal Protection. Plus some British Members of Parliament are showing their support for the initiative by wearing Healthy Seas socks!

MP Neil Parish showing his Healthy Seas socks
Do you want to be a part of the problem or the solution?
www.healthyseas.org