Marine litter

In 2021, the Directorate of Fisheries published a national action plan for the reduction of marine litter from fisheries and aquaculture. 

The aim is to reduce marine litter from aquaculture, commercial and recreational fisheries. To achieve this goal, we are working for an increased focus on the issue, preventive measures, retrieval of marine litter and contributions to research and development: 

  • The plan includes many measures for raising awareness around marine littering. We are working in close dialogue with industry, research institutions, private actors and other public sectors. 

  • We have measures to contribute to the development of new technology, design, etc.

  • Now, most traps and pots must have a biodegradable cotton thread that will open up the gear after a certain time under water, enabling fish and shellfish to escape and will thus reduce the extent of ghost fishing.

  • We also work closely with research and universities with the aim of developing more degradable alternatives ( that can be used in fishing and aquaculture.

Prevention of marine litter is by far the most cost-effective measure, and over time, the goal is that materials and technological solutions will enable employees within aquaculture, commercial and recreational fishers to avoid littering and to locate and retrieve gear that is lost themselves. This is a long-term goal which requires work and cooperation over many years. Until this is a reality we believe in the importance of retrieval measures for lost gear and other marine litter. 

It is estimated that on a global scale, 80 % of all marine litter comes from land-based sources. However, in Nordic waters we see a considerably larger percentage of, for example, beach litter stemming from sea-based sources, including fisheries and aquaculture.

Plastic is a central part of almost all gear and equipment that are being used in fisheries and aquaculture. Gear or parts of gear are sometimes lost at sea, microplastic fragments are torn from the equipment with use/wear and tear, and thus become marine litter. 

The Norwegian environmental agency ( is the central authority for contamination and littering, and responsible for all processes connected to the handling of waste, delivering-systems for waste in harbors, beach cleaning, etc.

However, the Directorate of Fisheries, as the management authority for these industries, aims to contribute to reduce the spread of plastic, in order to protect marine wildlife and ecosystems, and to ensure clean and healthy oceans in the future.

Annual retrieval surveys

The Directorate of Fisheries has probably the world’s longest, continuous timeseries for retrieval surveys for lost fishing gear. Since the beginning of the 1980s we have conducted annual retrieval surveys in the most important fishing areas along the coast. The surveys are reliant on the real-time reports of lost fishing gear with locations, which are reported electronically to the Coast Guard.

The surveys have concentrated mainly on gill nets, traps and pots, because these gears are assumed to have the largest impact in terms of ghost fishing. In addition, large amounts of lines, seines, and other articles related to fisheries such as ropes, wires and anchors, have been retrieved.

Since the annual surveys started in the 1980s, several 1000 tons of fishing gear have been removed from the sea, including 26 000 gill nets, with a combined length of over 730 kilometers.

Norwegian fishermen are required to report lost fishing gear. This reporting is very important for maximum utilization retrieval efforts. 

In addition to an annual retrieval survey, the Directorate of Fisheries disposes of a separate vessel that contributes to coastal recovery of lost fishing gear.

Norwegian recreational fishers can report lost fishing gear in an app (“Fritidsfiskeappen”). The Directorate of Fisheries as well as private initiatives use this information to clean up lost fishing gear also in coastal areas.

Marine litter from commercial fisheries

A large portion of the litter found along the Norwegian coast is plastic gear or equipment associated with or used in commercial fishing.

The risk of losing “passive” fishing gear like gill nets, traps, pots and long lines, is higher than for “active” fishing gear like trawl and purse seine. This is due to the difference in fishing methods. Passive fishing gear is “abandoned” at sea, and when, for example, a gill net is lost at sea it can contribute to ghost fishing for a long time.

Active fishing gear is attached to the fishing vessel at all times and is thus rarely lost in their entirety. However, components from active fishing gear, for example cut-off of ropes and nets after reparations and operations on deck, contribute to marine littering. It is common to find parts of ropes on the seashore.

Ghost fishing

Lost or abandoned fishing gear can continue to fish for years. This fishing results in a “hidden harvest” of fish and shellfish and is poor animal welfare and wasted resources. A number of reasons can cause a fisher to lose gear. Passive fishing gear, such as long lines, gill nets, pots and traps, are connected to the ocean surface by a rope, and often a float or buoy.

The float might disappear beneath the surface, for example if the gear is transported to deeper waters with the currents, if the gear falls down a slope on the bottom, or because of changes in tides.  The rope that connects the gear to the surface might break due to wear and tear, excessive load, or if knots are disentangled. Shipping traffic can also pose a risk, as ropes might get cut or tangled in propellers.

If the float is lost or the rope to the gear cuts off, the fisher loses the connection to the gear, and recovering it from the ocean can be challenging.

To reduce the risk of new losses and to increase the possibility of recovery, it is important to report gear loss and conduct gear retrieval projects.

Marine litter from recreational fishing

Approximately 1/3 of all Norwegians goes fishing at least once a year. Regulations limit both types and quantities of gear allowed. Still, recreational fishing is a considerable source for marine litter, with loss of gill nets, traps and pots as the main challenge. Limited knowledge of correct use of fishing gear is assumed to be the main cause. 

Marine litter from Aquaculture

Most aquaculture facilities consist of large amounts of plastic components. During work operations and through wear and tear, equipment, parts and plastic fragments can be lost at sea. Typical beach litter items from aquaculture include rope fragments, parts of feeding pipes and floats. In some cases, whole facilities or large components are abandoned in sea or coastal areas.