Plastics, Marine Litter and Ghost Gear
The Aquaculture Stewardship Council’s (ASC) current standards set criteria for dealing with plastic with various requirements for certified farms to implement policies for waste reduction and recycling; and ensuring responsible storing and disposal of waste.
Going forward, the ASC is also reviewing the need for new criteria/indicators targeting specifically the issue of marine litter, plastics and ghost gear, for implementation in future revisions of its standards or guidance documents…
A new white paper from ASC (“Marine Litter and Aquaculture Gear” – published on November 28, 2019) has determined that extreme weather is currently one of the major causes of plastic ‘ghost gear’ from fish farms entering oceans and rivers, and warns that increasingly unpredictable weather caused by climate change could exacerbate the problem. The document is the first to classify the different causes of plastic waste from aquaculture and to assess the risks associated with different farming systems. It also makes recommendations for the aquaculture industry, which can be summarised using five R’s: Reduce, Re-use, Recycle, Recover, Refuse.
The paper has been commissioned and published by ASC to provide scientific rigour and evidence to the planned update to ASC standards to include requirements on this issue, but also includes recommendations for the wider industry. Uniquely, it gathers evidence from various sources including 60 ASC certified farms; and finds that the three main causes of plastic pollution from aquaculture can be classified as: mismanagement, deliberate discharge, and extreme weather.
“We’re really proud that we were able to use information from ASC certified farms to help produce this important paper, and we hope it can help improve standards across the entire industry,” said Marcelo Hidalgo, Standards Coordinator for ASC. “We will be sharing these findings and working together with the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and International Maritime Organisation (IMO), as well as the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) to collaborate on finding solutions to this problem that affects us all.”
Problems caused by marine litter and aquaculture gear in the aquatic environment include ingestion by animals, entrapment and entanglement of animals, physical impacts on the benthos, disruption and loss of coastal areas, potential human exposure to microplastics and chemicals through the food chain, etc… ASC’s November 2019 white paper finds that while lost plastic and debris from aquaculture and capture fisheries are often considered together, this is a not a helpful approach as the causes are often quite different.
In the future, ASC certified producers will be required to carry out a risk assessment of potential plastic contamination and pollution, and to implement mitigation actions to minimise the impact at the farm and its surroundings. Farms will need to record all used and disposed plastic material; and should implement a plastic waste monitoring programme to ensure waste is disposed in a responsible manner, recycling when possible.
In August 2018, ASC became the first and only aquaculture body to sign an agreement with the GGGI pledging to develop scientific knowledge of the impact of plastic waste and aquaculture gear used in farming, and to establish best practices that can be applied in ASC’s standards. GGGI is the world’s largest cross-sectoral alliance dedicated to finding solutions to the problem of abandoned, lost or otherwise abandoned fishing gear (ALDFG, also known as ‘ghost gear’). It works globally and locally with a diverse group including industry, private sector, academia, governments and NGOs, to build evidence, define best practices, inform policy, and find solutions for issues related to ghost gear. ASC was the first aquaculture body to join the initiative.
Through their collaboration, ASC and GGGI are working on developing a refined science-based definition for aquaculture gear and are conducting risk assessments for each aquaculture gear type.
Supporting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
ASC’s approach to plastic waste aligns with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14), Life Under Water, which was established to address marine pollution, conserve coastal and marine areas, increase scientific knowledge, and transfer technology to improve ocean health. This Goal includes…:
By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution.
Index of coastal eutrophication and floating plastic debris density.
Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology […] in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries […].
[Page last updated 17.04.2020]