In several countries, Fishing for Litter helps remove marine debris from the ocean. The picture shows the haul of litter caught by the fishing boat Amity II from Shetland. Photo: Karen Murray, Shetland News.

Time to Fish for Litter

Marine debris threatens the maritime environment and harms sea life. Norwegian fishers will now take part in collecting such waste material, as the Norwegian Environment Agency has commissioned Salt Lofoten to head a two-year trial Fishing for Litter project.

Marine debris

Defined as all solid material from human activity – such as plastic, wood, metal, glass, rubber, textiles, and paper – that has been dumped into the ocean or otherwise ended up there.

Includes waste from terrestrial sources that have been transported to the ocean through waterways, drainage, or the wind.

Does not include liquid waste, such as mineral or vegetable oil, paraffin, and other chemicals.

Biodegradable waste from the fishery and aquaculture sector is also not included.

Each year, large amounts of waste are added to the sea and the coast. Much of this waste consists of plastic, metal, and rubber, which may potentially take centuries to decompose in nature.

“The affects of marine debris can be critical for species whose population level is already under threat,” says Ellen Hambro, director general at the Norwegian Environment Agency. “Aquatic birds are particularly at risk. Unfortunately, the amount of debris in the ocean is increasing for each year. It is therefore important to implement countermeasures to avoid such litter and remove the waste from the ocean.”

Fishing for Litter

Norway and the fourteen other signatory states to the OSPAR convention (the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic) have been asked to evaluate the Fishing for Litter initiative as a measure against marine debris.

“The scheme entails that participating fishing boats are equipped with large, robust sacks,” Hambro explains. “They use these sacks to collect waste that they’ve picked up in their trawl nets or other equipment during their regular fishing. The sacks are delivered free of charge at ports that take part in the scheme. At these ports, the waste is sorted, registered, and taken care of in a responsible manner.”

In Norway, the scheme is set to commence on 2 January 2016. The first two years are a trial project with a limited budget. To begin with, reception facilities will be set up in Tromsø, Ålesund, Karmøy, and Egersund, stretching along the entire Atlantic coast.

The number of vessels allowed to participate in the trial period may also be limited. The primary objective is to gain insight into how the project can best be organized and what amounts and types of waste that are collected.

A volunteer effort

“Fishers can make an effort for the environment by taking the litter they get in their equipment onto land,” Hambro says. “In that case they help clean the ocean and make sure the waste is responsibly taken care of. This is a volunteer effort that fishers do on behalf of society and that will greatly benefit ocean life.”

It has been estimated that around 15 per cent of marine debris washes ashore and remains on the beaches, while 15 per cent floats around in the ocean. The remaining 70 per cent ends up on the ocean floor.

Besides the Directorate of Fisheries’ annual clean-up expedition to retrieve lost fishing equipment, there are currently no other organized measures in Norway aimed at the portion of the debris that can be found in the water column or that lies on the ocean floor. This is where Fishing for Litter wants to make a difference.

The Fishing for Litter initiative

Helps remove marine debris from the ocean.

Makes fishers more aware of the waste that they themselves add to the environment.

Helps monitor regional trends concerning marine debris. The findings are reported to OSPAR.

Shall study the possibility of recycling the resources that are extracted from the sea in the form of marine debris.

A focus on recycling

After its call for tenders this spring, the Norwegian Environment Agency received three offers to organize, plan, and run the trial Fishing for Litter project in Norway.

We have chosen the Salt Lofoten consultancy firm to spearhead this project for us.

They will be joined by the waste collection specialist Nofir, which will receive and recycle that part of the waste that consists of fishery-related marine debris.

Salt Lofoten has set as a goal that all waste that can be recycled through the current schemes in Norway shall be recycled.


Eva Degré
head of the marine division
phone no.: +47 920 83 176

Erlend Standal
senior advisor at the marine division
phone no.: +47 469 06 133