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Fishing for Litter: Belgian fishermen collect record 65 tonnes of trash at sea

Fishing for Litter project in Belgium - Belga
13:38 16/05/2022

Belgian fishermen brought a record 65 tonnes of rubbish ashore last year as part of the ‘Fishing for Litter’ project, which aims to combat the rising amount of waste that ends up in the world’s oceans. 

The amount for 2021 is three times more than the previous year, North Sea minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said in a statement on Monday.

The project, which began in the Netherlands and was introduced in Belgium in 2016, is active in 10 countries in Europe. It encourages fishermen to take the waste they find in their nets while at sea to port, rather than simply throwing it back overboard.

“For some time now, many Belgian fishermen have been actively involved in the Fishing for Litter project,” says Rederscentrale, the professional organisation for sea fishery shipowners.

Rubbish found at sea is recycled

“The waste that they accidentally pick up while fishing is collected in large waste bags, so-called Big Bags. Once on land, the crew returns the Big Bags and the marine litter is further processed and recycled.”

In 2017, Belgian fishermen brought in 2 tonnes of waste – still a large amount but much smaller compared to the 65 tonnes pulled from the sea in 2021. 

Awareness-raising efforts include the launch of a smartphone app that allows fishermen to quickly report what kind of waste they will bring ashore, along with where and when.

Last year, 37 out of 60 Belgian fishing vessels participated in the operation.

“This positive development does not mean that we can rest on our laurels,” Van Quickenborne was quick to say while thanking the fisherman for their participation.

'Dumping waster anywhere is unacceptable'

He added: “Indeed, what they collect is only a small part of the waste in our North Sea. Society as a whole must realise that dumping waste anywhere is unacceptable. Sooner or later, much of this waste ends up in the sea via streams, rivers and sewers.”

The Flemish Fisheries Cooperative is responsible for the delivery of the Big Bags and the collection and processing of the waste brought ashore, while the Shipers' Centre is responsible for awareness-raising and communication. The project is also supported by the European, Belgian, Flemish and West Flemish authorities.

“The Belgian fishing industry already makes a lot of efforts to collect waste from the sea under the project Fishing for Litter,” explained Rederscentrale.

“However, we have noticed that these actions are often overlooked and do not sufficiently reach the general public.”

The professional organisation hopes that a new outreach programme will help encourage shipowners and fishermen to continue collecting waste from the sea and reward them for it, furthering increasing participation in the Fishing for Litter project. 

Photo: Fishing for Litter event in Zeebrugge in 2019 © Belga/Maaike Tijssens

Written by Helen Lyons