There is a word to describe the data of fishing nets, legal and illegal, abandoned at sea: impressive. It is difficult to make a precise calculation, according to some estimates they could have a total weight of 640 thousand tons. “In 2014 we collected a 72-kilometer-long network in the Antarctic ocean,” says Andrea Morello, president of Sea Shepherd Italy, the Italian section of an international organization at the forefront of safeguarding marine ecosystems. “Hoisting her aboard our ship – 56 meters long, 800 tonnes – was a dangerous undertaking.” But it was a success not only from an environmental point of view. “We gave the net to a specialized company, Aquafil, which transformed the net into nylon thread,” explains Morello. «The yarn was then used by Adidas to make their special shoe sold in 7 million copies. Many young people can say they are wearing something that has been obtained from a recycling operation ».
The abandoned networks
Quoting one of the most beautiful songs of Lucio Dalla they are killing the sea, they are humiliating the sea, they are bending the sea. The abandoned nets, the so-called ghost nets, also cause serious damage in the Mediterranean. “By falling, they suffocate the life of the seabed, others continue to float and trap sharks, turtles and cetaceans,” says Massimiliano Falleri, head of the underwater division of Marevivo, an association that since 2003 has been involved in the search and removal of abandoned nets. «In a percentage of 50-70% these nets break up forming microplastics. We have recovered 7,500 meters of abandoned nets in our seas. In September 2019 in the Marettimo area 300 kilos of nets were recovered, in June 2020 at the Secca delle Formiche, between Procida and Ischia, 70 meters long nets, last July in San Felice Circeo a lost net more than 200 meters long which he kept fishing. ‘
The ghost nets
Ghost networks are one of the most underestimated global problems. In fact, they do not only involve the environmental sphere with the depletion of fish resources, the indiscriminate destruction of the seabed, the creation of microplastics that enter the food chains. Ghost nets are the poisoned legacy of illegal fishing that feeds organized crime with huge gains and negligible risks, both in terms of invested capital and possible criminal consequences.
If the network is legal
“We will never be able to convince these criminals to stop the destruction of the sea,” Morello is convinced, but proposes a new strategy. “What we need to do is make their activities ethically deplorable and no longer profitable. When civil society organizes itself and literally hunts like we did in 2014 when we chased ocean-going fishing boats from the Antarctic to the equator for 111 days, this makes those illegal activities no longer profitable. ” In reality, even the legal networks are lost and go to feed the ghost ones. “Step fishing is done on the shallows, promontories that emerge from the bottom and which, thanks to a game of currents, bring up the nutrients that attract the fish”, explains Falleri. “But approaching the shallows the nets can run aground and must be abandoned.” If they remain on the seabed for years, they are colonized by algae, shells and other animals. The nets become part of the seabed and the concretions are so abundant that it becomes impossible to remove them. “In some cases it is better to leave them where they are: less damage is done because it would damage the ecosystem that in the meantime have” incorporated “them”.
It is also a matter of laws. Today there is no law requiring legal fishermen to report where and when a net has been lost. So that environmental organizations or the Coast Guard can go and recover it quickly before it can do any more damage. “It’s absurd,” says the president of Sea Shephard Italy. “On land, if a farmer, for example, loses a tractor in a canal, he is obliged to recover it at his own expense. At sea the fisherman is not obliged to recover and pays nothing. The Salvamare law is firm in Parliament. It is a shame because it would be the foundation of the circular economy and we have seen that there is a strong demand from consumers for objects made from recycled plastic ».
The contribution of divers
The collaboration of all the actors involved is essential: environmental organizations, fishermen, marine authorities. “Even divers and diving centers,” both Falleri and Morello say. “On the contrary,” both underline, “it is precisely from them that reports of networks on the seabed often come”. “Rather than fining or sanctioning, I think it is more important to educate all sea operators to respect this extraordinary environment,” says the Marevivo representative. Also because the data, as we said at the beginning, are impressive. “Last autumn we found the Fads in the Tyrrhenian Sea”, the president of Sea Shepherd Italy sounds the alarm. «They are disastrous: white polypropylene strings tie to the seabed cages of 100-150 kilos full of stones that hold thousands of 5-10 liter plastic tanks firm on the surface that form an island called a fish aggregator. We have documented more than 10 thousand Fad only in the Aeolian Islands. Thousands of kilometers of polypropylene that end up at the bottom of the sea every year. Away from everyone’s eyes ».