What happens to end-of-life fishing gear in Northern Highlands?

At Plastic@Bay we are constantly trying to find solutions to deal with ocean plastic pollution. Today, our biggest source of ocean plastic pollution on the NW Coast is commercial fishing. Reasons sighted for fishing gear becoming such a source of pollution include limited waste management infrastructure, lack of institutional support and appropriate practical arrangements in harbours, for end-of-life fishing gear. For our current project, ‘Affordable Ocean Plastic Recycling’ funded through Innovate UK’s, Women in Innovation programme we are exploring the feasibility of building medium scale facilities in harbours to recycle end-of-life commercial fishing gear on site.

To get a clearer picture of the types of end-of-life gear being generated, and the state of end-of-life fishing gear waste management in harbours of the Highlands we distributed two surveys; one to harbourmasters and one to fishermen and -women. The result showed that all harbours send their end-of-life gear to landfill, simply because there is no other option. Everyone surveyed supported a localised recycling as the preferred option.

Harbour Survey

We got responses from five Highland harbours, four busy west coast harbours; Kinlochbervie, Ullapool, Lochinver, and Gairloch and one east coast harbour, Helmsdale. The main type of plastic fishing gear used at these harbours are mostly, trawl nets, ropes for creel pots, longlines and gill nets. Most harbours are managed by the Highland Council, except Ullapool which is a harbour trust. Kinlochbervie, Ullapool and Lochinver dispose of their end-of-life gear into a subsidised skip provided by KIMO’s Fishing For Litter Scheme, which goes to landfill. In Helmsdale and Gairloch, harbourmasters said that there is no facilities to deal with end-of-life fishing gear at their harbours. Harbourmaster at Gairloch, John MacLeod said that they dispose of two to three full skip loads of defunct trawl nets and creels per year, and the cost of disposal was a major problem.

The west coast harbours dispose of between 20 to 50 tonnes of end-of-life gear annually, while smaller harbours, while smaller harbours like Helmsdale generate just one tonne per year . All harbourmasters said they would be interested in having a recycling facility in their harbour .

Fishing ropes and nets

Fishermen Survey

Kinlochbervie harbourmaster, Gary Mitchell and Ullapool harbourmaster, Kevin Peach, distributed a survey amongst their fishermen and -women. Each harbour generate different types of end-of-life gear and have different waste management approaches. Here, I will explore each harbour in detail.

Kinlochbervie Harbour

Kinlochbervie harbour, is a safe natural harbour within easy steaming distance of the prolific fishing grounds of the North and West Coast of Scotland. Kinlochbervie has become one of the major fishing ports in Scotland. Fishing boats, often based in east coast Scottish ports, land their catches here. The fish is then transported in large refrigerated lorries to destinations across the UK and throughout Europe. The main activities are white fish trawlers and local shellfish creelers.

Kinlochbervie Harbour

The fishermen questioned (n=13) used a varieties of fishing methods and gear. The main type of gear used in Kinlochbervie harbours is trawl nets, creel pots, longlines, gill nets, hand lines and drift nets (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Proportions of fishing gear used by fishermen (right, n=13) at Kinlochbervie harbour, and distribution of gear used. Notably most fishermen practice more than one type of fishing activities, using a combination of trawling, creel pots and fishing with longlines.

On average each fisherman disposes of 2.77 tonnes of end-of-life fishing gear per year. Just using information from our surveys, that equates to 36 tonnes per year for the harbour as a whole. All fishermen questioned said they would support an end-of-life fishing gear recycling facility in Kinlochbervie harbour.

Ullapool Harbour Trust

Ullapool Harbour Trust is located in Ross and Cromarty district and within the Highland Council Area of north west Scotland. The harbour runs a daily ferry service to the Isle of Lewis. The local fishing fleets consists of a dozen or so 10 to 18 meter vessels, mainly catching prawns, although some catch lobsters, scallops and crabs and smaller boats using static creel pots for prawns.

Ullapool Harbour

Of the fishermen and -women questioned (n=10), four used creel pots, five used trawl nets, four for prawns and one for white fish and one fisherman used seine fishing net. In total the fishermen and -women surveyed dispose of 3600 meters of rope, two trawl nets and one seine net annually. Through KIMO’s Fishing for litter scheme KIMO dispose of an average of 23.91 tonnes per year. Everyone questioned said they would support a recycling scheme in Ullapool harbour.

Cleaning nets, Ullapool Harbour

Kevin Peach, Harbourmaster at Ullapool Harbour Trust said,

We have successfully sent 30 tonne of mixed trawls and gill nets to Denmark for recycling and would like there to be a more localised offer as storage is a major issue. Additionally we recycle all our broken fish boxes which can number 500 in a busy year. I’m of the view when a fisherman buys any piece of catching equipment they should pay an additional levy binding them into a pre agreed disposal process. The levies could be accumulated and used to support a worker at each major port who would strip down discarded equipment into its component parts. This makes recycling a much more feasible ambition and would reduce the needless landfill burden we currently contribute to.

The evidence is clear, hundreds of tonnes of plastic end-of-fish fishing gear is generated in the Highland harbours and all gear disposed of in these harbours get disposed of in landfill. This as a huge economic cost to the Highland Council for collection and transportation to landfills in Aberdeenshire, and a major environmental cost in terms of CO2 emissions. With this information in hand, we hope to convince the Highland Council and other funders and investors to support our efforts to bring recycling facilities to rural harbours in the Highlands.

5 Replies to “What happens to end-of-life fishing gear in Northern Highlands?

  1. What an excellent idea. So heartening that the fishing industry itself is so concerned about sending it all to landfill.

    1. Thanks Rosie, it is so easy to point the finger and blame folk, but I don’t think it gets you anywhere. We decided a long time ago that the best way to solve this problem was to start working with the fishermen. We have gotten an overwhelming positive response from everyone.

  2. Assisting re-cycling within the ports is a great idea! It will save on so much cost and save landfilling this dangerous material. A levy at purchase time to help cover costs is a super ides too.

  3. What would be the scope for recycling other plastics locally as well, such as black silage wrap?

    1. Hi Sue, everyone tells us we should do that. At the moment our scope is ocean plastic, but if we established a recycling facility we would definitely look into it.

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