Project aims to transform how fishing industry deals with discarded nets

Marine litter is recognised as a growing global problem. And it is estimated that more than a quarter of such material found within the English Channel area is made up of nets lost by the fishing industry.

A new cross-Channel research project involving the University of Plymouth aims to tackle this by cleaning our oceans of the plastic currently within them, and hopefully preventing them from being polluted to such a degree in the future.

Scientists in England and France will work to develop biodegradable fishing gear that can be used by both small and large boats across the industry.

They will also look to enhance the recycling of collected marine plastics, so that it doesn’t either remain in the oceans or become a problem once again in the future.

The INdIGO (INnovative fIshing Gear for Ocean) project has received €2.9million from the Interreg VA France (Channel) England (FCE) European Programme, funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Of that, €540,000 will be coming to Plymouth where researchers, working alongside Cornish company Odyssey Innovation, will focus on the recycling of salvaged nets and the establishment of an international recycling network.

Dr Jasper Graham-Jones, Associate Professor in Mechanical and Marine Engineering, is leading the Plymouth element of the project, which will build on the University’s world leading reputation for marine litter research and impact.

He has volunteered for the lifeboat service in Hayling Island and Looe since 1998 and the HM Coastguard since 2011. He has also recently been re-elected as a Looe Harbour Commissioner, both of which have seen him work closely with the fishing industry.

He said: “Those in the fishing industry fully appreciate the potential threats posed by marine litter. They also know they have a role to play in tackling it, if they want to protect their livelihoods and enable the industry to become more sustainable. However, they need support to achieve that, and that is where the INdIGO project can make a real difference. There have been a few initiatives looking at this previously, but until now they have been quite small scale. By working with colleagues in the UK and France, and the industry, we can create a positive change on both sides of the Channel.”

Led by the University of South Brittany, the INdIGO project will reduce the total quantity of plastic present in the FCE area by 3% through the development of biodegradable fishing gear, by improving water quality and maintaining biodiversity.

It will cover the production chain of the fishing gear from formulation, filament manufacturing to prototype net development, with durability tests, technical and economic analysis then being undertaken. Researchers will also complete a life cycle analysis to avoid pollution transfer, while the involvement of SMEs will ensure the economic sustainability of the project by exploiting the results of the project.

This expertise of the sector will enable INdIGO to develop products that are adapted to the needs of the market and competitive with current alternatives, while reducing their impact on the environment.

Dr Graham-Jones added:

"The South West of England is home to one of the biggest fishing communities along the English Channel so we are perfectly placed to tackle this issue. But it will require a massive cultural shift. It was once normal to leave discarded nets at sea, but now there is a growing recognition that it is dangerous for divers but also has a long-lasting impact on the ocean and the creatures living within it. We have to be able to persuade people to bring their nets home, and one way to do that could be to convert disused nets into some other product that people will want.”

Materials and Structures Research Group

The research carried out in this area covers many aspects of mechanics in materials and structures. 

This includes structural integrity focusing on fatigue and fracture of materials, durability of marine reinforced concrete (RC) structures, multi-scale and multi-phase modeling of materials, and structural modeling using finite element analysis.

International Marine Litter Research Unit

Marine litter is a global environmental problem with items of debris now contaminating habitats from the poles to the equator, from the sea surface to the deep sea.

Furthering our understanding of litter on the environment and defining solutions

Find out more about the International Marine Litter Research Unit