Plastic is in the news again.
Unsurprisingly, the UK is one of the worst for plastic.
There is currently a lot of focus on single use plastics, which is great, but are we missing something? I’ve talked before of how plastic shouldn’t be in the sea anyway (illegal dumping) but I was thinking of another issue.
An huge amount of plastic in the sea is microplastic. This makes sense, you break a big bit into a hundred bits and now amount you have 100 pieces. However what if we looked by weight?
If we do we find ghost fishing gear to be the biggest culprit. This is fishing gear that was lost and just floats about. This is not deliberate, a trawler net can easily cost £50,000+ and the sea is a rough place where accidents happen.
Much ghost fishing likely comes from illegal fishing, with modern boats having all kinds of safety to reduce the risk. Certain groups will only by from boats with “safe” practices.
Even legal gear can go missing, with the industry slow to adopt GPS tags or some form of identification on the gear to give some record of it. We shouldn’t penalise everyone who loses a net, but the prevention aspect of this could be significant and GPS would certainly make recovery more easy and save the fishing fleets money. Money they need to fish more to make up for.
Moreover it comes from regulation, we do this in the UK a little with inspectors boarding ships to check for illegal activity. Even when we know it is hard, for example the Chinese fishing fleets faked GPS data to fish off the coast of West Africa during Ebola, and illegally overfished around Galapagos during Covid. We know it for a fact yet nothing was done.
Once you go beyond national boundaries the law is, “More like guidelines than actual rules” with no one policing the sea.
If we can’t stop illegal fishing we can see, we can’t stop the ones we can’t see. Illegal fishing is devastating for oceans in multiple ways and until it is stopped, control of ghost fishing and ultimately plastics, will be next to impossible.
If plastic straws are 0.03% of ocean plastic and ghost gear is between 10-40% (estimates vary), should we focus more on this? Or is it right to focus on what we control?