Marine litter

Marine litter is a global problem. Increasing amounts of plastic and other non-organic materials in the oceans is threatening wildlife, and it might cause concern for the future of the sea as a safe food-source.

Plastic is a central material in most gear used in commercial and recreational fishers, as well as by the aquaculture industry.

Plastic has a long decomposition time, which means that articles lost at sea will remain in the environment for a long time. The plastic will gradually reduce to smaller fragments, eventually becoming microplastic particles (< 1-5 mm).

Marine living animals can wrongly take plastic for food and ingest it, or get entangled and stuck in plastic articles. Littering can physically affect or damage the sea floor and coastal areas. In addition, humans might get exposed to microplastic or toxins through seafood if plastic is incorporated in the marine food chain. 

A lot of plastic washes ashore to beaches and coastal areas, and beach cleaning is an important and effective way of reducing litter in these areas. However, the largest proportions of marine litter, possibly as much as 90 %, is not washed ashore but sinks to the sea floor. This litter is challenging to locate and remove.

Reducing, stopping and removing marine litter is essential to ensure clean and healthy oceans in the future. The Directorate of Fisheries is committed to work towards minimizing marine litter from the fisheries and aquaculture industries.

Marine litter from commercial fisheries

Tapte garn. Foto © Fiskeridirektoratet

Equipment associated with or used in fishing activity make up a large portion of the litter found along the Norwegian coast. Mostly, we find whole or parts of fishing gear that has been lost at sea.

Loss of fishing gear is unwanted for a number of reasons and the cause of losses vary, with some types of gears at higher risk of getting lost.

"Passive" fishing gears

The risk of losing “passive” fishing gears like gill nets, traps, pots and long lines, is higher than for “active” fishing gear like trawl and purse seine. This is caused by the difference in fishing methods. Passive fishing gear is “abandoned” at sea as a part of the fishing method. When, for example, a gill net is lost at sea it often gets referred to as a ghost gear, and can contribute to ghost fishing for a long time. The Directorate of Fisheries run a yearly retrieval survey for cleaning up lost fishing gear.

Active fishing gear is attached to the fishing vessel at all times. Therefore, these gears are seldom lost in their entirety, but components from these fishing gears, for example cut-off of ropes and nets after reparations and operations on deck, contribute to marine littering. It is normal to find parts of ropes on the seashore.

Video about marine litter from fisheries

Pieces of fishing gear can also pose a threat to wildlife and the environment.

Marine litter from recreational fisheries

Recreational fisheries is a popular activity among the Norwegian population. According to Statistics Norway approximately 1/3 of all Norwegians report to go for at least one fishing trip each year. Regulations give limitations for both types and quantities of gears allowed to use in recreational fisheries. Still, we assume that recreational fisheries is a considerable source for marine litter, with loss of gill nets, traps and pots as the main challenge.

Limited knowledge of correct use of fishing gear is assumed the main cause of loss. It is therefore recommended to acquire sufficient knowledge about the gear, depth and bottom conditions before fishing. It is also important that the ropes are in good condition, and all knots on gear and ropes are secure.

Video from CNO: How can you reduce the risk of losing fishing gear?

Updated: 10.06.2020