Abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) is a significant and very persistent form of marine litter, recognized as one of the major pollution problems damaging the marine and coastal environment worldwide. Indicatively, fisheries and aquaculture related items found on beaches in Greece and Italy accounted for 38% and 31% of total items recorded, respectively. The adverse impacts on habitats and species range from ghost fishing and ingestion of plastics by marine species to physical impacts on the benthos and the introduction of invasive species; while the economic and social impacts are also significant.

The causes of ALDFG are numerous and vary between and within fisheries. Direct causes of ALDFG include operational fishing factors such as weather making it more likely that gear will be left or discarded; illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing; gear retrieval and gear disposal costs; gear conflicts; vandalism and/or theft, while indirect causes include the unavailability of onshore waste disposal facilities, as well as their accessibility and cost of use.

Within the scope of Europe’s transition towards a circular economy and in support of the measures foreseen under the Single-Use Plastics Directive, the EC launched a study on the circular design of fishing gear. This study aims to understand the challenges and possible solutions to proposing effective and substantial recommendations for a development of harmonised standards for a circular design of fishing gear. The objective of the study is to provide the background and information necessary in supporting the Commission in requesting the European standardisation organisations to develop harmonised standards relating to the circular design of fishing gear to encourage preparation for re-use and facilitate recyclability at the end-of-life.

Spatial distribution of the amount of fisheries & aquaculture related items (%) recorded on coasts of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas (Source: Marine litter assessment in the Adriatic & Ionian Seas. IPA-Adriatic DeFishGear Project, MIO-ECSDE, HCMR & ISPRA, 2017)

The preliminary conclusions and recommendations of the aforementioned study were debated, reviewed and further elaborated at a workshop organized on the 19th and 20th of February 2020 in Brussels. MIO-ECSDE was one of the more than 65 participants that joined the workshop and discussed the challenges, barriers (legal and practical), solutions and best practices related to collection and logistics of ALDFG for recycling; practical recycling, design for recyclability and reuse; design to reduce impact on the marine environment.