Almost one year ago, Plastic Busters MPAs and MIO-ECSDE kicked off a marine litter prevention and mitigation demo at the Thermaikos Gulf Protected Areas (Greece). The demo aimed at showcasing how a derelict fishing gear management scheme can be established and how the sustainable management of such gear can be ensured with the involvement of the fisheries and aquaculture sector.

Up until now, some seven and a half tons of derelict mussel nets have been removed from the demo site, the mussel-farming area of Chalastra. The plastic mussel nets were recovered by the environmental NGO iSea and were sent to BlueCycle to be recycled. Both organizations and the Management Body of the Thermaikos Gulf Protected Areas have been the local partners in charge of implementing this marine litter mitigation demo. The demo had been identified as a priority action within the ‘Action Plan for Marine Litter in Thermaikos Gulf Protected Areas’ that was developed by the Management Authority of Thermaikos Gulf Protected Areas within the framework of the Interreg Med ACT4LITTER project, under the guidance of MIO-ECSDE.

According to the Coordinator of the Management Body of the Thermaikos Gulf Protected Areas, Ms Athina Panagiotou, derelict mussel nets are a major issue, not only for the area of Chalastra but for the entire coastline of the western part of the gulf, which hosts a large number of marine mussel farms and is responsible for almost 80-90% of the national mussel production, making it Greece’s largest mussel production area.

Due to the intense mussel farming activities in the area, high volumes of plastic waste of mussel nets are being generated and mismanaged. Large amounts of these nets are being discarded at sea which eventually wash out onto the coastline. Illegal incineration of the nets has been reported to take place. According to recent beach litter monitoring data gathered by iSea, more than 250 mussel nets are found per 100-metre stretch of coastline.

This extremely high amount of mussel nets found on the coastline of Chalastra, highlights one of the most frequent misunderstandings when it comes to the actual sources of marine litter in Greece and the wider Mediterranean”, says Ms Thomais Vlachogianni, Senior MIO-ECSDE Programme Officer. “Oftentimes, the litter inputs of the fisheries and aquaculture sector are largely underestimated due to the fact that the majority of beach litter surveys are carried out in tourism and recreational destinations, thus reflecting the pressure of tourism and recreational activities. Similar to the case of Chalastra, there are many other areas that are heavily impacted by derelict fishing gear. Tackling their high abundance, which in some cases is ten-fold higher than the EU beach litter threshold value of 20 litter items per 100-metre stretch, will require tailor-made measures addressing the fisheries and aquaculture sector in order to reach good environmental status”.

The Plastic Busters MPAs demo provided a framework of a potential solution to the problem of derelict mussel nets in the area of Chalastra. Initially, beach litter monitoring activities were carried out to assess the presence of abandoned, lost and/or discarded fishing gear (ALDFG). The obtained data was used to raise the awareness of local communities and engage all stakeholders in setting up a derelict fishing gear management scheme. Collection points for ALDFG were setup in several locations and the logistics associated with the full value chain of recycling (collection, cleaning, segregation, transportation) were defined, while best practices for the proper collection and management of ALDFG were disseminated to the local fisheries and aquaculture sector.

The pilot action of Chalastra serves merely as a starting point for our future activities, as we plan to replicate it in all mussel farms of the Thermaikos Gulf. The pilot action provided us with a blueprint for concrete in-the-field actions towards the sustainable management of derelict fishing gear and long-term positive environmental benefits”, says Ms Anastasia Charitou, iSea Programme Officer. According to Ms Charitou one of the highlights of the action was the active involvement of the local communities. In particular, the mussel farmers and the fishermen welcomed the action and contributed substantially to its success. The pilot action was implemented in close collaboration with the Municipality of Delta and the local Fisheries and Mussel-farming Association of the Municipality of Delta.

Read in French here