New life for fishing gear aims to help address ocean plastic pollution

By Lena Beck

On the shores of southwest Washington state, little pieces of thick yellow rope sometimes wash ashore among tangles of seaweed and broken shells.

Ordinarily, these types of rope – fragments of line used in shellfish farming – simply add to the estimated 14 million tons of plastic pollution that circulate through the world’s oceans each year, harming a wide spectrum of delicate marine life as the plastics slowly break down into smaller pieces.

But a team of collaborators in the US Northwest is working to interrupt that pollution cycle through an innovative effort that is part of a broader movement around the world aimed at protecting the oceans – or at least, limiting the plastics that threaten them.

A fishing gear recycling company called Net Your Problem is working with the Ocean Legacy Foundation and the Washington Sea Grant research institute to repurpose old fishing lines- one such project turns the shredded ropes into tiny plastic pellets. Students at Western Washington University (WWU) then mold the pellets into tools for measuring crabs during harvest.

“Better than putting it in the landfill,” Washington-based commercial fisherman Mark Casto said of working with Net Your Problem to recycle 13,420 pounds of line from his operation, which harvests king crab, snow crab and salmon from Alaska.