Fishing for Energy

Stellwagen Alive!

The problem

Marine debris threatens important marine wildlife and their habitats, impacts fishing activities and hinders navigational safety. Lost, discarded, or abandoned derelict fishing gear is one type of debris that can continue to catch commercially valuable species and cause damage to active fishing gear and vessels, costing fishermen both time and money. In addition, derelict gear can catch non-target species, including endangered or threatened marine mammals and turtles. Derelict gear can also impact marine habitats and causes damage on the ocean floor as it shifts around during storms.

The solution

'Fishing for Energy' was launched in 2008 through a partnership between Covanta, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program, and Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc. The Partnership provides commercial fishermen with a cost-free solution to dispose of old or unusable fishing gear in designated bins throughout the coastal United States. The gear collected is stripped of metal and then converted into energy at a Covanta Energy-from-Waste facility. The programme also provides grants to remove derelict gear and to foster technologies that reduce gear loss and mitigate the impact if lost. The partnership works with the fishing industry and local management, provides clean energy to communities, and helps keep coastal waterways free of old, lost, and destructive fishing gear. 

Each partner plays a distinct role in the successful execution of the disposal programme. NFWF works with NOAA to identify priority ports and high-need locations to participate in the 'Gear Collection Program'. After fishermen dispose of gear, Schnitzer Steel receives the load and extracts any metals in the bin. The remaining gear, mostly nets, rope and buoys, is then sheared and shipped to a Covanta Energy-from-Waste facility. Covanta then processes the gear to produce renewable energy that is transferred to the local electric grid to power homes and businesses.

Fishing for Energy supports four initiatives to reduce the amount of derelict fishing gear and the impact of lost gear in coastal and marine ecosystems:

  1. Gear Collection Program: provide collection bins at strategic ports for commercial fishermen to unload unusable gear.
  2. Management: collaborate with state managers to address legal impediments to derelict fishing gear removal.
  3. Technological Innovation: identify, test and deploy innovations to reduce accidental introduction of derelict fishing gear into the marine environment and innovations to reduce the impact of gear if lost.
  4. Outreach and Education: increase public awareness about the environmental and economic harm of derelict fishing gear and Fishing for Energy initiatives to make measurable improvements for coastal environments and communities.

The outcomes

Since 2008 the Partnership has invested more than US$2.6 million to address the issue of derelict fishing gear across the United States through direct engagement with the fishing industry and the administration of grants. As of April 2015, the Gear Collection Program has recovered approximately 1,400 tonnes (2.8 million pounds) of gear from 42 ports across ten states, generating enough electricity to power 182 homes for one year. Through the grant programme specifically, funding has supported the removal of more than 250 tonnes of derelict fishing gear and engaged more than 1,000 fishermen as environmental stewards. In addition to supporting gear recovery and removal, Fishing for Energy grants have made significant progress towards identifying, testing, and implementing new technologies that not only reduce the risk of gear loss, but also ensure that when gear is lost it is properly disabled to mitigate negative impacts. As just a few examples, projects to date have: 1) successfully developed a new technology that makes crabs five times more likely to escape derelict crab pots, 2) identified shortfalls and developed innovative solutions capable of improving the design of lobster and crab pots in the eastern United States, and 3) tested strategies to reduce gear lost from boat strikes.

As of April 2015, the Gear Collection Program has recovered approximately 1,400 tonnes (2.8 million pounds) of gear from 42 ports across ten states, generating enough electricity to power 182 homes for one year.

The Partnership also recognises the importance of working with natural resource managers to identify and support strategies to address derelict fishing gear. By fostering relationships with state managers, the Partnership has been successful in facilitating improvements to out-dated regulations and supporting the implementation of new policies to reduce gear loss and streamline removal efforts. Through a partnership with the Aquariums and Zoos Association, Fishing for Energy has achieved great success in engaging the public at a national scale. These education and outreach opportunities have helped communities to better understand the scale and complexity of the problem and importantly, the solutions.

The lessons

By leveraging the strengths of all four partners, the Fishing for Energy Partnership has established a foundation for a multi-pronged approach to disposal, prevention and increased awareness in order to reduce derelict fishing gear and marine debris throughout the United States. While the direct connections between lost fishing gear, metal recycling, and energy generation may not be initially obvious, the success of this partnership indicates that all corporations can have an active role in environmental conservation and stewardship. By thinking creatively, remaining open to new opportunities, and always maintaining an unwavering dedication to environmental stewardship, Fishing for Energy has thrived thanks to the dedication and flexibility of diverse and engaged partners.

There are unintended impacts in nearly every industry; the challenge is working to positively mitigate those impacts as a regular part of doing business. The Fishing for Energy Partnership is focused on helping the fishing industry do just that. When incentives align, environmental stewardship becomes an easy decision and the response from the fishing industry has been overwhelmingly positive. Fishermen from around the country have exceeded expectations, not only in the passive disposal of retired gear, but also through proactive engagement in removal efforts and gear testing. The Partnership has also benefited greatly from applying a multipronged approach including no-cost disposal opportunities, education, grant making, and direct engagement with state resource managers. The success of the Partnership is in large part due to the recognition that while derelict fishing gear is a national issue, targeting efforts at the community level can bolster incredible awareness and support that ultimately leads to measurable, large scale impacts.

Key contacts 
Courtney McGeachy
Coordinator, Marine and Coastal Conservation, NFWF
Kristen Byler
Manager, Fisheries Conservation, NFWF

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