Every fishing season, thousands of weathered and torn nets get replaced. In the past when there was no use for the old nets, many international fishing vessels would cut them loose in open waters. Drifting just beneath the surface, these nets become death traps to many ocean creatures. This has inspired those closest to the ocean to create fishing net recycling programs creating jobs in small fishing villages around the world helping to keep the nets in the economy and out of the ocean.
What’s the Use?
There is never a bad reason to help the environment. Used and degraded fishing nets continue to trap fish and other aquatic wildlife even after they’ve been cut free. The nets that remain at the surface can get tangled in boat rotors, causing damage to commercial and industrial equipment, harming the economic environment as well.
Nets that float down further into the water interrupt the natural paths of living things which can get tangled in them. An immobilized fish becomes easy prey for bigger fish, which can also get tangled up, or may mistake the net for food and try to eat it, which will kill them from within.
Nets along the bottom of the water can just as easily be kicked back up to the surface as well. They contaminate the ocean floor where most ocean and river going vegetation grows and can disturb the silt and sand balance where many fish hide or graze. There is no place for abandoned nets in any body of water. It’s one of the most harmful forms of solid waste that gets left behind from otherwise important commercial ventures.
What Can We Do?
Like many industrial, commercial or even recreational tools, most fishing nets are made from plastic or other synthetic and artificial structures. They are not part of the environment enough to return to it once they are left behind. The sad fact is that such things are cheaper to make and purchase than organic alternatives. Basic rope also doesn’t blend back into the environment easily.
Thankfully, ghost nets can be recycled into other kinds of products based on the material they are made of. Since there are so many kinds of nets, there are also many kinds of products they can be remade into. By working through the full process of recycling, companies and individuals can help revive the ocean by reclaiming ghost nets and giving them new life as useful, harmless things.
Nets made of soft fabric, like Nylon or traditional thickened animal fibers, can be reclaimed and reprocessed into malleable goods like clothing or carpets. The Philippines-based Net-Works has been using reclaimed nylon nets to create fabric tiles that go in homes and businesses. This is especially crucial in the Philippines as a majority of their food supply revolves around fishing and the use of wide lake-spread nets.
Another company, Girlfriend, makes leggings, bras and tops for women. Other companies reconstitute traditional rope nets by processing the fabric itself to make hard cloth goods, like handbags or backpacks.
Of course the most basic method of reclaiming soft-material nets is to remake them. Healthy Seas, a non-profit, dives for ocean litter including wreckage and debris, and has developed a method of converting used nylon nets into newly reclaimed nylon yarn that can be used to make all sorts of cloth-alternative materials.
Nets made of less flexible material can also be remodeled with some extra work. The more material that is gathered the less loss there can be. It’s not as simple as bundling up a massive roll of netting and melting the hard plastic down to pour into new molds. That is the end of a much longer process that requires the impurities to be filtered out and burnt away.
Some companies have taken this approach to get rid of the more cumbersome, less treatable materials to make small but practical goods. Such as Bureo, makers of all sorts of hard plastic goods from sunglasses to skateboards. Their lightweight alternatives to traditionally bulky or wasteful products serve a dual purpose. It cleans up the sea and gives more access to enjoyable goods for more people.
Once effectively broken down and recycled, hard plastics can be used to make anything that regularly processed factory-fresh hard plastics can. Phone cases, basic garden chairs, even kayaks and other lightweight boats can be made with reclaimed plastic from fishing nets. From out of the ocean to back in, safely without the risk of making more waste.
When people have access to a lot of material, they don’t always think of what the most practical use for it would be. For some, they see a canvas not as a drawing board for plans, but as a place for free expression. To that end, sanitized reclaimed fishing nets are made to create arts and crafts which celebrate the preservation of the ocean.
Many ocean-side communities have places that feature local art made with products of the sea - both natural and unnatural - and all of them are used to bring awareness to ocean pollution. These arts feature fish nets and shells in the shape of fish, crabs, whales and other marine life which can adorn walls and lawns. There’s a poetic nature to it, taking something harmful and making something beautiful out of it, that gives such craft a power over more traditional, simplistic arts with the same intention.
Making art of ocean waste creates a powerful statement. Even if people try to hurt the ocean, there are always hands at the ready to clean it up for their own joy and pride.
Always More To Do
The ocean is in a pandemic of its own and has been for decades. Pollution is rampant of all kinds. Fishing nets account for 10% of that pollution, but they don’t have to. With so many solutions at hand and in practice, ghost nets no longer have to haunt our waters forever.