- Thursday, 25 October 2018

Why Are We So Focused On Plastic?

sneak peak: yesterday's news of the European Parliament passing a resolution to ban single-use plastics has got everyone talking, but there's one thing we're not talking about - fishing

Why Are We So Focused On Plastic? imogen molly blog, www.imogenmolly.co.uk

This is fantastic progress towards a more sustainable Europe. It's really encouraging to hear that not only did MEPs vote in favour of the EC's proposed ban, but they did so with an overwhelming majority of 571-53. Fingers crossed it comes into effect before Brexit, so that we adopt it here in the UK too! Credit to Belgian MEP Frederique Reis for championing such an important cause.

The steps being taken globally towards tackling this issue are laudable and absolutely well-meaning, however they are largely misdirected. It's time we addressed the elephant seal in the room. More than half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of fishing equipment, and as the graph in this BBC article demonstrates all too clearly, a fishing line takes far longer than any plastic to biodegrade.

Only eight per cent of the entire garbage patch mass is comprised of microplastics, while fishing nets alone make up 46% of the net weight (pardon the pun) (Lebreton et al, 2018). The majority of the rest of it is abandoned fishing gear, often from illegal fishing vessels, but as yet it's unclear exactly how much.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be tackling single-use plastics - absolutely we should, and we must continue to capitalise on the momentum that has been built up over the past few months and years. What I'm saying is that if we really want to see change, we need to shift, or at least broaden, our focus from just single-use plastics.

If we can find the motivation and the sense of inherent responsibility to replace our takeaway coffee cups with a sustainable alternative, surely we can replace the fish on our plates with a sustainable alternative too. If you really want to protect and preserve the environment, please stop eating fish; there is no such thing as sustainable fishing.

The war on plastics is underway; is the war on fishing next on the list?

Useful resources if you want to learn more:
- Single-Use Plastics Ban Approved by European Parliament, BBC, 2018
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Isn't What You Think It Is, Laura Parker, 2018
- We Won't Save the Earth with a Better Kind of Disposable Coffee Cup, George Monbiot, 2018
- Evidence That the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is Rapidly Accumulating Plastic, Lebreton et al, 2018
- Ghosts Beneath the Waves - Ghost gear's catastrophic impact on our oceans, and the urgent action needed from industry, World Animal Protection, 2018


  1. It would be interesting to see a breakdown of the different water pollutants/litter, and how harmful each one is. While the plastic may be 8% of the weight, I imagine it causes more than 8% of the damage? For example, does a heavy but inert fishing rod cause more damage than a light plastic bag? From here, we can better prioritise initiatives to solve the issues.

    It would also be interesting to know what sustainable fishing options there are. As a foody, it would make me sad to think there was no way at all to eat fish in future!

    Also, it would be cool to see an overview of the technologies and initiatives being used to look after the oceans, such as The Ocean Cleanup.


    1. So pleased this made you want to read more! I'll definitely look into doing a follow-up post with the stuff you suggested. Although a plastic bag might cause more damage when broken down into microplastics than a fishing rod, the main result of fishing is the nets. The difference in mass of the Garbage Patch between microplastics and fishing nets is so huge that it would be very difficult for the microplastics to have the same impact as the nets (8% vs 46%).

      Speaking personally, I don't believe there is any form of sustainable fishing that is realistic for long-term use. For example, ethics/morality of veganism aside, if we only eat fish caught by fly-fishing independent fishermen, or fishermen in little fishing boats using a single net and not much else, a few things will happen: fish will be extraordinarily popular, demand will skyrocket while supply goes through the floor, prices will soar, and people will want to cash in on the sudden extreme profitability of fish.

      I'm not saying there will be some kind of fishy black market (although anything is possible) but in general I don't think there is such a thing as sustainable fishing. Regardless what the nets are made of, the oceans are being fished at an unjustifiable rate so the problem is the fishing itself just as much as the method of doing it.

      The Ocean Cleanup is fab (I even looked at jobs there but they're based in NL and now is not the time for me to do that!) and seems to be the first of these types of initiatives to actually get properly off the ground and make significant progress, which is really positive. I'll have a look into what else is out there and will see what I can bring together for another post!

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