Cutting Down on mending waste

cutting down logo

Cutting Down is an exciting new marine plastic prevention project by Plastic@Bay CIC. The project aims to reduce the quantities of waste cutting loss generated through mending fishing gear;

For Plastic@bay data collection has always been at the heart of what we do. We cleaned, counted, weighted and surveyed plastic pollution from Balnakeil Beach in Durness at least once or twice a week over a five year period (2017 – 2022). Since 2017, we surveyed many sites from Loch Broom all the way along the coast to Whitten Head. When funding was available for a Coastal Ranger, we were able to conduct in depth surveys of the plastic pollution we cleaned (Figure 1). In Balnakeil Bay, we found that rope and net cuttings between 5 > 50 cm accounted for 30% of what we cleaned (Figure 2). Similar figures have been found on other sites.

Figure 1. Statistics of monitoring 79 beach cleans made in the Durness area from the 07-05-21 to the 21-10-21. Ocean plastic is categorised by type (hard plastic, foam, ropes and nets, and MOD (Ministry of defence) flares) and size (meso (0.5 – 5 cm), macro (5 – 50 cm) and mega (over 50 cm)).

Figure 2. Net Cutting becoming part of the soil matrix, Scouriemore, Scourie, NW Highlands.

What process could generate net and rope cuttings, and how do they end up in the ocean?

The most common types of cuttings were pieces of green polyethylene trawl nets, and aquamarine polypropylene/polyethylene mix ropes used in creel fishing (Figure 3 and 4). 

Net cutting are mostly generated when fishermen mend their trawl nets at sea or on the quayside in port by cutting away damaged sections. This creates net cuttings, which can find their way into the sea. KIMO International’s have published a detailed report on the subject, ‘Net cuttings waste from fishing in the North-East Atlantic: best practices for mitigation.

We have been interacting with Kinlochbervie harbour, downstream from Durness on multiple occasion to discuss different proposal to reduce and recycle end-of-life fishing gear (EoLFG). Kinlochbervie harbour is one of the major fishing ports in Scotland. The main activities are white fish trawlers and local shellfish creelers. Fishing boats, sometimes from distant ports, land their catches there. In 2019, the harbour bought a specialised brushing machine to clean cuttings from the quayside. This helped reducing the flushing of mending waste at sea. However, since we don’t exactly know the volumes of such plastic already in the ocean, it is possible that it will take centuries to remove all of the cuttings that went at sea. There are also multiple reason why the machine might not operate and that the weather being foul, the cuttings end up at sea before they get picked up. It is therefore critical that the mending products never touch the ground and get disposed in the least damaging ways.

A collective solution

In July 2022, Plastic@Bay moved to the Isle of Lewis. On Lewis, we started to engage with the community. In October 2022, Duncan MacInnes, Secretary Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, training manager of the Western Isles Sea Fisheries Training Association and Secretariat Outer Hebrides Regional Inshore Fisheries Group, invited us to present our work on local recycling solutions at the Western Isles Fisheries Association AGM. Our presentation was well received and a lot of fishers engaged and motivated us to dig further into offering a solution to the issue.

We have met with a lot of actors in the area that are concerned with this waste management and ocean pollution issue, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar harbour management, Creed recycling centre management, Stornoway Port authority management, Alasdair Allan MSP, KIMO international and a large number of supportive and helpful active fishers. After bouncing ideas and trying to find a solution adapted to the needs of the fishing community, the organisations managing the waste, we raised funds thanks to the sponsor of the Highland and Islands Environment Foundation (HIEF), and KIMO international, we launched a pilot project across Lewis and Harris with the aim of tackling net and rope mending waste.

Stornoway Harbour and 3 unmanned council harbours (Carloway, Stockinish and Leverburgh) were selected for the pilot as they are considered the most active and practical to test the system. Thanks to our sponsors, we purchased transport cages on wheels that were modified to contain small rope cuttings. They are accompanied with signage, a link to a dedicated page, movable to the place of mending and can be secured with brakes and attachments.

cutting down cage in Stockinish
One of our cage in Stockinish Harbour

The idea behind is to recycle locally the products collected in the cages. We purchased and built a dedicated machine to press plaques made with the collected ropes and nets to be placed in participating harbours. The first tests have been made but in the absence of a proper working space, the plaques design will remain confidential until they are deployed.

Does it work?

The response to the deployment of the cages has been quite mind-blowing. We think we have already collected about 1 ton of ropes and nets to recycle. So far, the users are quite happy about the cages and more harbours want it and want to engage into the solution. We also recently learned that our project has been awarded by the Conservation Collective, a collective of environmental charities to which HIEF is part of. For their 2023 award, we are highly Commended in the category of reducing pollution. To be totally honest, we are quite overwhelmed that this project is such an engagement success.