Recycling fishing gear

22nd December 2017

All vessels in Australia have a responsibility not to pollute the sea and to be aware of the laws about oil and garbage pollution from vessels. Pollution of the marine environment by ships, including fishing vessels, is strictly controlled by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (known as MARPOL).

To minimise pollution, MARPOL prohibits ships from discharging garbage into the sea except in very limited circumstances. Australia is a signatory to MARPOL which is now enforced in over 150 countries.

In Australian waters, MARPOL is given effect by the Commonwealth Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 and the Navigation Act 1912. It is the basis for Australian and state government regulation of pollution from all ships, including fishing vessels, in Australian waters. Australian MARPOL regulations apply to Australian fishing vessels wherever they are operating and they can also apply to foreign fishing vessels operating within Australia’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone. Penalties can be up to A$17 million for the shipowner and A$3.4 million for the Master of a fishing vessel discharging waste in contravention of the MARPOL regulations.

Fishers work hard to not pollute the sea which provides their livelihood.  Lost trawl netting can even entangle marine animals like seals.

For South East Trawl operators, this obligation is further reinforced through the SETFIA online learning course on Understanding Commonwealth Marine Reserves.  Additional rules apply within marine reserves.

According to MARPOL, garbage includes synthetic ropes, trawl nets and other fishing gear and these cannot be discarded at sea.

In the South East Trawl fishery, fishing gear such as the rope and nets wear out and need to be replaced periodically. However, the only option for disposal available to fishers is to take their old fishing gear to the tip for a fee , where it is most likely added to landfill.

Not only is this expensive in the long term but it is also a waste of resources given most, if not all, of the components of old fishing gear can be recycled or re-purposed.  Currently, fishers do not have a realistic disposal alternative that is reliable, cost effective, and environmentally friendly but the potential is huge. For example, old fishing rope (which is made from polypropylene and polyethylene plastic and lead) can be re-purposed as fencing rope, to reinforce terracing in farms or to create outdoor art installations due to its hardy and UV stable qualities.

Alternatively, the plastic and metal components can be separated and recycled. The lead can be recycled fairly easily as it can be used in other fishing gear or other products. Some types of material from old fishing rope or trawl nets can also be recycled in various ways. It can be melted and made into thin lines of plastic called filaments that can be used in 3D printing to make new objects. Nylon is another type of plastic used in trawl fishing nets and it can be melted down and recycled into fresh new nylon fibre that is then used to manufacture new high quality nylon products such as carpet tile, swimwear, socks and so on.

In 2017, to raise awareness of the negative impact ghost nets (lost or abandoned fishing nets) can have on the marine environment, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) worked with local Torres Strait artists to turn the harmful waste product into works of art and in turn educate about marine pollution.

Any company who are interested in a supply of polypropylene, polyethylene, nylon or lead is urged to contact SETFIA.