Policy Options for Fishing and Aquaculture Gear

23 March 2022

Resource Futures was contracted by the UK governments to research gear use in the UK’s fishing and aquaculture sectors and explore options to improve waste management at end-of-life to tackle marine litter from these sources.

It is internationally accepted that action is needed to curb the significant amounts of waste and marine litter originating from the fishing and aquaculture sectors.

The UK is seeking to act as a global leader in tackling plastic pollution that enters the ocean. In addition to gear becoming a source of marine litter, we know that end-of-life fishing gear is also sent to landfill or is kept in storage, with only a small proportion being recycled.

Litter from fishing gear is currently the form of marine litter with the greatest known impact on marine life. In 2019, the British-Irish Council Marine Litter Symposium saw Environment Ministers commit to improving recycling routes for end-of-life fishing nets.

In line with these commitments and the need to fill knowledge gaps, the overall aims of this research project were to:

  1. Understand the current sources, quantities and life cycle of fishing and aquaculture gear used in the UK.
  2. Define and analyse UK-wide policy options such as EPR to tackle marine litter from fishing and aquaculture gear and improve waste management at end-of-life.
  3. Perform an economic assessment on these policy options.

UK gear use and subsequent waste arisings were quantified nationally and regionally, and estimates of the proportion of waste recycled were made. This primary research fills an important data gap and provides the basis of evaluating potential waste management schemes for these sectors. Policy options such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) were analysed on their ability to improve waste management outcomes and reduce the risk of marine litter. An economic assessment was conducted for the different policy options, with cost-benefit analysis to compare the potential impact and cost-effectiveness.

Following completion of the project focussed on England, an extension project was commissioned to repeat the exercise across the whole UK. This enabled the UK-wide study to build on learnings from the initial assessment; expanding and improving the results.

1. Gear Inventory: Understand and quantify gear use

Resource Futures worked with the fishing and aquaculture sector across the UK to create a UK-wide fishing and aquaculture gear inventory. This involved working with manufacturers and suppliers to compile average gear units for the main types of fishing and aquaculture gear.

National records of the number of fishing vessels and aquaculture sites were then used to scale up estimates of gear currently in use and in storage. Stakeholders provided estimates of gear lifespan which were used to estimate annual waste arisings. Waste management practices were also covered during stakeholder interviews.

A full description of the methodology, data and assumptions used to build the national gear inventory estimates is given in the body of this report.

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2. Policy analysis: Develop solutions

This report concludes the second phase of the project and presents an analysis of policy options to tackle marine litter and improve waste management in the UK’s fishing and aquaculture industries. A horizon scan was conducted to develop a longlist of policy options by drawing on in-house policy knowledge and desk-based research of existing policy examples in the fishing and aquaculture industries globally.

Representatives from Defra, DAERA, Welsh Government, Marine Scotland and Zero Waste Scotland participated in a series of three workshops held to shortlist and refine policy options that were taken forward to the final phase of the project, using an analysis framework to systematically evaluate policy options based on key evaluation criteria. The three shortlisted policies were:

  1. National mandatory fishing and aquaculture industry-led waste management scheme
  2. Mandatory EPR (with CE measures): take back
  3. Mandatory EPR (with CE measures): take back, with Government support for improved waste management

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3. Economic impact assessment: Assess and compare solution

The three shortlisted policies from the second phase of the work were assessed using a mass flow and cost-benefit analysis model created for this work. Model scenarios were developed to estimate the main costs of introducing new schemes for fishing and aquaculture gear, and the benefits derived from different levels of performance (i.e. ‘what-if scenarios’) under each option.

Read the Report