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Fishing for Litter explained

Deciding where to fish

Material litter hotspots are identified based on, among others, approaches by local contacts or stakeholders, pre-selection by project partners and analysis of recent news and studies.

Final decision on fishing for floating ocean debris depends on type, viability and quantity of waste available that can be collected, logistics both in terms of collection and transport to recyclers, results from onsite inspections and local conditions which may affect ability of trawl to collect waste.

Previous WFO marine plastic collection sites have included Barcelona, Porto, Rio de Janeiro and Cotes d'Armor France.

How to set up Fishing For Litter in your area


WFO works through partner organisation Europeche, which is the representative body for fishermen in the European Union. Europeche represents around 80,000 fishermen across Europe, including 16 member organisations across 10 member states. In Europe, fishing is regulated in order to prevent over-fishing and ensure sustainable ecosystems. Idle fishing times are thus a window of opportunity for fishermen to fish for litter.

Outside of this we also approach local-national fishermen organisations that work in the region of interest. An example is France, where the CNPMEM initially called on local representative bodies of the fishing industry. The initiative was marked by a strong sense of motivation and awareness of the need to preserve the marine environment.

In 2013, WFO successfully lobbied for fishermen who take part in FFL schemes to be financially compensated. Once an EU Member State has applied to make use of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), Article 40 stipulates that the EMFF supports “the collection of waste by fishermen from the sea such as the removal of lost fishing gear and marine litter”. In these member states, WFO helps fishermen to access these funds.

Rest of the World:

WFO approaches fishermen organisations within each region of interest either through known partners or directly gauging interest to collaborate on FFL schemes. Once contact has been established with fishing organisations, we inquire about the interest to use idle fishing times to fish for litter. WFO also tries to secure compensation for fishermen from nation/regional authorities for participating in FFL schemes. Once local partners have been approached, the collection trawl will be brought to the site and local fishermen will be trained how to use the trawl: installation of trawl, waste collection, removal of trawl from the water with the use of a crane.

Interest in FFL schemes

Reaction and interest in participation depends on many factors, such as priority of concern for marine litter, ability to secure compensation etc., and varies between locations and regions. However, previous FFL schemes have found that generally there is a lack of awareness from the fishermen for both the impacts associated with marine litter and their ability to clean up their oceans. Generally local fishermen and harbours appreciate the training to allow them to perform marine clean-ups in the future. Example: in 2015 the Catalan Waste Agency, the Fishermen’s Guild and Port of Barcelona set up a pilot FFL scheme, entitled “project Marviva”, based on the success of WFO’s FFL scheme in Barcelona in 2011. The fishermen trained by WFO in 2011 also participated in this project.

Media response

Fishing for Litter schemes have attracted widespread attention in the past and are likely to garner interest of local TV and radio outlets, allowing for Waste Free Ocean’s mission of reducing and reusing marine litter to be spread to a wider audience.

Challenges & Precautions

Potential harm to marine life in fishing for marine litter:

In developing the WFO trawl care has been given to ensuring that only floating litter is fished for and to minimize the extent to which aquatic fauna will be caught or otherwise adversely affected. The Thomsea trawl net extends only 40cm into the water column (with the rest supported above the water line) to facilitate environmental care. Additionally, fishing vessels operating the trawls operate at very slow speeds with an average of 6knots per hour and training in the use of these trawls limits the risk of harm to marine life in fishing for marine litter.

Consumption of fuel in collection of marine litter:

Special trips for the collection and recovery of marine litter (using the trawl system) will only take place in predefined hotspots/known locations for floating marine litter. Fishermen thus avoid consumption of fuel in the search for marine litter optimizing the efficiency and environmental friendliness of the trawl collection system. In the identification of hotspots local fishermen and knowledge of local authorities shall be used in addition to the knowledge and expertise of this consortium and its networks.

Other concerns

Fishing gear falls into the same category as other collected sea waste. In Europe, The PRF Directive 2000/59/EC requires vessels to land the waste they produce during voyages between EU ports to port reception facilities. Vessels must pay a mandatory fee for landing this waste and notify the port of what waste it has in advance of arriving in port.

Variations in waste delivery are partly influenced by the cost recovery systems put in place by ports, varying substantially between ports and regions. It has been demonstrated that considerably less waste is delivered to ports that apply a 100% direct fee system, by which waste fees are fully charged based on the volumes delivered. Taking this into account, the European Commission is presently revising this Directive. The main concern for FFL schemes are logistical: ensuring that the process of collecting and transporting litter to recycling facilities runs smoothly. Another concern is costs, which can vary depending on location.

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