Going circular in the Blue Economy
07 02 2022

At the start of January, popular American YouTube creator Mr Beast (real name Jimmy Donaldson) announced a significant milestone to his 13 million Twitter followers. The #TeamSeas initiative that he led had, in a little over two months, reached its target of raising $30 million for ocean clean up activities.

Famed for entertaining his nearly 90 million YouTube followers with elaborate stunts, Mr Beast launched the appeal in October 2021 with a video of a beach cleanup in the Dominican Republic (now viewed over 50 million times). The call-to-action was then issued: to raise $30 million in order to remove 30 million pounds of waste from the ocean. Partnering with established entities The Ocean Cleanup and The Ocean Conservancy, the campaign promised to support traditional beach clean-up activities, capture floating debris at source in rivers using interceptors and also attempt to tackle a perhaps less well known issue, ghost gear.

The ghost gear problem

Each year, ten million metric tons of plastic end up in the world's ocean. Abandoned, lost, and discarded fishing gear (ALDFG), known as ghost fishing gear, and plastic waste from aquaculture are major contributors to the plastic debris problem.

Discarded ghost gear is one of the most damaging forms of plastic pollution in the ocean. This is because gear continues floating and fishing through the ocean long after having been lost or discarded; it entangles and often injures or kills marine animals, such as turtles, dolphins, whales, small fish, and seabirds. In addition to this “ghost fishing” activity, ghost gear snags and damages marine habitats such as coral reefs and therefore reduces socio-economic opportunities. One of the most distressing examples of this came in 2018, when hundreds of dead sharks and other fish were found in an abandoned fishing net off the Cayman Islands. However, u    p-to-date information on the amounts of ghost gear entering the ocean globally are not available and are minimal to non-existent in Africa, Antarctica, Asia and South America.

Many initiatives have been developed worldwide to deal with the issue of ghost gear including the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), which was launched in 2017 and developed the Best Practice Framework for the Management of Fishing Gear (BPF), updated in June 2021. The BPF emphasises that measures to prevent gear being lost or abandoned at sea and to mitigate the environmental harm caused by ghost gear are more effective than measures to remove ghost gear from the environment.

The BPF outlines proven strategies to reduce ghost gear and provides clear options and recommendations for fisheries managers. It recommends strategies to prevent, mitigate, and remediate the problem of ghost gear, tailored to particular stakeholders such as gear designers and manufacturers, fisheries control agencies, seafood businesses and port operators. Some of the actions mentioned are voluntary guidance, third-party certification schemes, regulatory measures, and awareness building. This framework for successful solutions developed and presented by the BPF follows a consistent path which includes:

●     building evidence for the scale of the problem;

●     identifying local or regional causes of gear loss;

●     identifying solutions and best practices tailored to address specific causes and drivers;

●     advancing these solutions and best practices through policy, management, and market forces; and

●     implementing solutions and best practices.

 Recovered fishing nets are in great demand by many brands that want to promote their sustainability credentials. One of these companies is Aquafil, leading manufacturer and producer of the high-quality Nylon 6 yarn known as ECONYL®, a regenerated nylon as good as brand new nylon, which can be recycled, recreated and remoulded again and again. This allows for creation of new products without having to use new resources.

Patagonia is a US outerwear brand that makes some of its clothing from recycled fishing nets. Bureo, a Chile-based enterprise turns fishing nets from the ocean into a new recycled material, called NetPlus. The nets are collected from coastal communities in South America, sorted, cleaned, shredded, and prepared for transport. Patagonia invested in the startup in 2014, and since then have created a range of hats and outerwear using NetPlus. Other products made from recycled nets from Bureo are skateboards together with Carver Skateboards, sunglasses in partnership with Costa Sunglasses, and surf fins in partnership with Futures.

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Another prominent producer of sportswear Adidas partnered with Parley for the Oceans in 2015 to produce a concept shoe “Ultra Boost” from reclaimed marine plastics including ghost gear, especially deep-sea gillnets. In doing so Parley developed the world’s first supply chain for upcycled marine waste and created Ocean Plastic® as a powerful symbol of change, less virgin plastic, reduced CO2 emissions and more awareness of the issue.

Seychelles’ ReNet Project

With the development of industrial tuna fisheries in the Western Indian Ocean, Seychelles has progressed considerably over the last three decades. It is a regional hub and hosts the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). Even though artisanal fisheries remain of great importance for food security, the industrial fisheries comprise over 95% of the catches (usually of tuna species), reaching 136,200 tonnes in 2017.

Seychelles National Waste Policy 2018-2023 was designed to ensure that waste is managed in a sustainable manner, following set guiding principles and approaches in order to protect the integrity of the environment, while improving the quality of life. Fishing gear that fishers decide to replace because it is worn out, damaged or no longer usable in fishing should be disposed of through the correct recovery, waste management and treatment processes, aligned with circular economy models. In practice however Seychelles derelict fishing gear is currently being dumped at the port without any proper waste management system.

In 2020, the Department of Blue Economy was given the opportunity to develop Blue Economy projects that dealt with marine plastics or marine pollution and received a grant from the French Embassy in partnership with IRD through their "Fonds de Solidarité pour les Projets Innovants (FSPI)". The FSPI programme aimed to identify perspectives furthering the development of the Blue Economy in the Western Indian Ocean region and comprised three components or pillars: Pillar 1 - Act and Innovate; Pillar 2 - Sensitise and Pillar 3 – Research.

OPAGAC, the Spanish organisation of producers of frozen tuna, recognized in Spain by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, have always led efforts to improve the sustainability of their fisheries as well as to provide the best working conditions for their workers. This led to an internal study "Circular management of discarded fishing nets", with the main goal of understanding the current management of the nets discarded by their fleet and recommending solutions aligned with the principles of the circular economy.

After several discussions, it was understood that the two projects had similar objectives, and in June 2021 the two organisations decided to work in collaboration on one project: Reuse of Derelict Fishing Gear (ReNet) Project. In July 2021 several visits and interviews were conducted by a consultant from Sinerxia Plus Consultura. The objective of the visit and consultation was to draw the full picture of the initial situation regarding the end of life of the tuna fishing nets, to understand the system in a holistic way, and to develop a future vision, facilitated by OPAGAC and Department of the Blue Economy with the engagement of all the key stakeholders

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Following the visits, the research team from Sinerxia developed a model to analyse the financial viability of the proposed solutions, as well as some of the potential impacts. They also wrote a preliminary report that would be used to define the criteria to develop the vision which was:

●     developing a new system that is aligned with the principles of the circular economy;

●     finding solutions that are economically sustainable, create jobs and contribute to the growth of the Blue Economy;

●     engaging with local stakeholders and communities; and

●     having a positive impact on the environment, while reducing emissions and increasing the material efficiency of the country.

The ReNet Project was initially designed with three main components, following the guidelines of the BPF developed by the Global Ghost Gear Initiative:

Component 1: Conducting baseline study and assessment of the issue (ReFISH)

Assess and collect information on the amount of waste produced by the fishing industry, inclusive of the fishing nets, and other plastics and consumer waste and the behaviour of the stakeholders within the industry.

Component 2: Developing community initiatives and activities.

Develop community-based projects and initiatives that address the removal of plastic waste from the ecosystem produced by the fishing industry. These would also include education programmes and social enterprise initiatives that would introduce circularity as a concept to the creative industry, artists and schools.

Component 3: Initiating circular business models and formalising the recycling industry.

Develop and implement circular business models for innovative entrepreneurship into conversion and reuse of waste materials into new products and supporting creative industries. Initiation and establishment of a formal recycling industry not just for the nets but all plastics from the fishing industry would also be encouraged and supported.

The main aim is to reduce derelict gear from reaching the ocean by collecting these directly from fishing vessels and encouraging circular use of the material in a closed loop system. The vision is to raise awareness on the significance of this problem and how finding solutions is beneficial not just for the industry but the fishing community. Involving the fisher community would promote their role as guardians of the marine environment, helping them contribute to protecting their working environment and reducing the problem of abandoned fishing gear at sea.

Specific project objectives are to raise awareness of the problem and of the negative impacts in the environment and on the various stakeholders; to improve the understanding of the problem by all and not just fishers; encourage behavioural change among the various stakeholders; to organise retrieval of all abandoned gear (at sea and on land); establishment of a mechanism or framework for the collection of afterlife fishing gear; and to introduce and encourage new business thinking of turning waste into economic potential.

The scope of the project is to:

●     focus on processing fishing nets from the tuna industry (though considering synergies with other available materials);

●     give private companies several alternatives (for both business models and source materials) – but try to coordinate and develop shared protocols and processes;

●     consider all the components of the nets (even the non-recyclable);

●     develop a Minimum Standard for Sustainability to ensure the venture is environmentally friendly and sustainable;

●     design a facility for processing the nets for onward recycling that cannot be conducted in Seychelles;

●     create jobs in an industry that would need to be established, regulated and managed;

●     catalyse an overall approach to plastics waste, starting with the fishing nets as an example, considering we have ample quantities of the material to work with; and

●     engage in reuse of the fishing nets with the local community.

Working towards a more circular use of the fishing nets should aim at minimising the systematic leakage of materials to the environment. Reusing, redistributing, and remanufacturing of the fishing nets is already happening both locally (e.g., communities reusing nets to make fences) and internationally. However, issues were identified such as how to ensure that the materials stay in a closed loop after they end their second lives, or how to make materials easily available to the communities. The vision is to move towards a system where all the discarded nets are managed by a single entity (the processing facility), which then aggregates, cleans and shreds, bales and sells the nylon, generating a profit that stays in the Seychelles, along with several employment opportunities. In the envisioned new system, a portion of the discarded fishing nets and other materials would also be made accessible locally for those who want to remanufacture them, to create artisanal products such as furniture, to promote sustainability, circularity and increase the percentage of the material that is reused locally.

As of January 2022, Component 1 of the project is almost complete. The artisanal survey has been conducted with the help of students from University of Seychelles and the data collected is being analysed. The semi-industrial and industrial fishing sectors will also be invited to participate in the survey. This component is being undertaken until the end of March 2022.

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Component 3 would be developed in collaboration with OPAGAC, who will provide key technical expertise in building the processing facility and contribute to knowledge transfer activities. As their initial project is being funded by the EU new discussions have to be initiated to identify opportunities and other resources that can be acquired that would benefit both parties.

Meetings and discussions have taken place with two large, well known international buyers and recyclers of derelict fishing nets towards the end of 2021, with promising outcomes for 2022. Many local entrepreneurs have also approached the project team leader asking how they can participate in this venture. This is a very positive outcome as it shows that there is a local interest in waste-based and recycling businesses.

The management of this component and the project would be undertaken by  Sustainability for Seychelles (S4S), a local NGO established since 2007, which seeks to promote sustainable, “green” living in Seychelles in collaboration with citizens, the Government, other NGOs and the private sector.

S4S would also assist in the development and implementation of Component 2 activities. This would include public workshops and seminars showcasing the use of the nets as raw materials and introducing circularity as a concept for Seychelles; competitions for schools and artisans using the nets in partnership with Enterprise Seychelles Agency and the Eco School Programme from the Ministry of Education; digital and printed communication materials sensitising youth groups in partnership with Seychelles National Youth Council on the entrepreneurial and business potential and opportunities to start creative businesses using the nets; and workshops and hands on creative activities showcasing how the nets can be used at home and in the community in partnership with District Administrations.

In preliminary meetings conducted during the consultation last year with key partners such as the Ministry of Investment, Entrepreneurship, and Industry, Seychelles Investment Board and Ministry of Local Government and Community Affairs there was strong support for development of capacity building programmes and promotion of entrepreneurship activities specifically around circular use of materials considered as waste, with fishing nets as the first example material. The Ministry of Fisheries and Blue Economy would remain the key partner assisting in resource mobilisation and the infrastructure development through its international partnerships and networks. The Ministry of Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment is also a partner as they are required for the development of regulations and policies that would enable such recycling activities to take place sustainably, providing technical advice in regards to sustainability and protection of the environment.

Other ghost gear initiatives

Canada’s Ghost Gear Program was launched in 2019 and since then has helped remove approximately 739 tonnes of abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear from Canada's Atlantic and Pacific coasts, created over 300 jobs and returned 216 units of lost gear back to fishers. Most of the gear retrieved were traps or pots that are commonly used in lobster and crab fisheries, and the remainder was a combination of nets and longlines from various fisheries.

Canada’s approach has been four-fold in its focus on ghost gear retrieval; responsible disposal; uptake and piloting of technology to prevent gear loss and unintended damage to marine life; and international leadership. In 2020 the government introduced mandatory reporting of lost gear via an online tool. This supports Fisheries and Oceans Canada to build the evidence base for the nature and extent of the ghost gear problem in national waters; to identify longer-term mitigation measures and to potentially reunite lost gear with its owner.

In 2020 the Government of Belize banned the ownership and use of gillnets in its national waters, in order to improve the sustainability of its fishery resources and the health of the marine environment. The ban was the culmination of many years of campaigning and discussions with both NGOs and the local fishing community, who over time had increasingly abandoned gillnets in favour of more sustainable practices, and included measures to support local fishers adopt alternative fishing practices. The ban in Belize follows a recent ban in the state of California, which sees the end of the use of gillnets in US waters. A recent study highlights that, at a global scale, preventing and reducing ghost gear from gillnet fishers, tuna purse seine vessels with fish aggregating devices, and bottom trawl fisheries are priorities in terms of gains to the health of the marine environment. The BPF also identifies gillnets and fish aggregating devices as the highest threats in terms of ghost gear, along with traps and pots.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations are also supporting 30 countries to prevent, reduce and control marine litter, including ghost gear, through the GloLitter Partnership. This includes capacity building to enforce existing regulations to prevent discharge of gear and other waste into the ocean, under IMO's International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex V regulations, and development of port waste management plans which embrace the circular economy concept.

Jamaica is one of ten Lead Partner countries selected to champion actions at the national level and catalyse further momentum at the regional level through “twinning working arrangements.” A National Task Force has been assembled, with representatives from government ministries and agencies with responsibility for fisheries, maritime transport, women’s affairs and the protection of the marine environment, to oversee the project’s implementation.

The international GloLitter Partnership will also foster the participation of seafood and maritime companies by developing a Global Industry Alliance with UN Global Compact.

The role of governments in supporting a circular economy

It is clear from these recent emerging examples of approaches to tackling the problem of ghost gear through a circular economy lens that, however the problem is approached, government has a central role to play. As custodians of the national marine environment, leaders of national blue economy plans and activities, and members and contracting parties to regional fisheries management organisations, governments need to support ongoing assessment of the overall risks and impacts to the marine environment, including from lost gear. As with the excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, measures adopted need to both stem the flow of marine plastic pollution into the ocean and drawdown and repurpose the stock of ocean plastic pollution, to improve ocean health.

In the context of the Best Practice Framework developed by the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, both Seychelles and Canada have taken steps to build evidence for the scale and nature of the national ghost gear problem and its causes, through data collection from fishers, NGOs and scientific studies.

Embracing the principle that prevention is better than cure, Belize has banned the national use of gillnets, the most damaging form of gear when lost. On the mitigation side, Canada is supporting ongoing innovation in the development of less harmful gear, including a new $20 million Whalesafe Gear Adoption Fund to reduce threats to whales from becoming entangled in lobster pot lines. Trials of ropeless and low breaking strength rope are underway with a view to encourage domestic supply of commercially-ready whalesafe gear by 2023. Canada is also supporting remediation of the problem and revival of the marine environment with funded gear removal programmes.

Regulations, infrastructure and public and private sector participation are key to making a circular economy work. The GloLitter Partnership Programme is poised to catalyse a wave of activity at national government level in SIDS and other fishing states globally, with its focus on the development of regulatory enforcement capacity, port waste management infrastructure and participation from a broad range of stakeholders.

Meanwhile Seychelles continues to demonstrate that, despite limited human resources, great things can be achieved through individual actions to seize opportunities, seek and build alliances and create new blue economic activities for the benefit of local people.

Francesca Adrienne is a spatial scientist with 20+ years of experience and a switch in career, currently a sustainability advocate and innovator interested in developing circular economy models, policies and strategies that would assist small island countries like Seychelles deal with its waste issue. She is currently the Project Manager for the ReNet Project, and a member of the Sustainability for Seychelles NGO, who will be managing the project in partnership with the Ministry of Fisheries and Blue Economy, where she is also the Director General for Maritime Boundary Management. She has been in this post for 3 years since January 2019, as the lead coordinator and focal point for Seychelles in the Joint Management Area (JMA) with Mauritius, a jointly managed Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) of the Mascarene Plateau. The JMA is one of the first area of its kind in the world and it is also one of the first ECS that would be using Marine Spatial Planning as a tool to manage its natural resources. She has been instrumental in the development of the “Ocean Knowledge Education Programme to strengthen the Blue Economy concept in the Indian Ocean Region – A study incorporating “Sustainable Ocean Management” into the science curriculum for 12 to 13 yr olds”, a Sustainable Ocean Management Education Project which has been endorsed by the IOC-UNESCO as a UN Decade Action and received funding from Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) for implementation. Miss Adrienne is also the focal point for the IOC-UNESCO for Seychelles, working towards the country's development and implementation of ocean literacy, ocean science initiatives and programmes as contributions towards the success of the UN Decade of Ocean Science and advocating for synergy in ocean science activities.

Belinda Bramley is a Blue Economy consultant and chartered accountant with a particular interest in marine conservation and nature-based solutions. She is an advisor with Blue Green Future, thought leaders in valuing natural capital including marine fauna and flora, and an associate at NLA International, a blue economy solutions consultancy, where she contributes regularly to their Blue Economy Pulse articles and occasional papers. In Seychelles she co-led the development of a Deep Blue Grants Programme and two visiting marine science fellowships to Oxford University with SeyCCAT (the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust) on behalf of Nekton, and led a Quality of Life Study (published book chapter) which considered the role of SeyCCAT in progressing the implementation of Seychelles conservation, climate resilience and blue economy agendas from a quality of life lens.

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