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Fishing gear accounts for an alarming amount of plastic in oceans (2021)


To place this in context, it's 50,000 tons/year of fishing waste, versus 200,000 tons/year of microplastics from car tires:

Further, microplastics enter the ecosystem far easier than the bulky big plastic from fishing gear, so the tire microplastics should be far more concerning to people.

It's really weird how cars get a pass for so much. Try to live a life without a car, and people think you are weird, and pass laws preventing you from building a community that is accessible without a car (at least in the US). And that's before we get to the violent deaths caused by car crashes, or the wheezing deaths caused by COPD, or the quality years of life reduced by asthma from cars...


It's really weird how cars get a pass for so much.

It's really weird how trucks get a pass from people who don't give cars a pass. If tire wear is proportional to road wear, the majority of tire-originating microplastics is from semi trucks, not commuter sedans.


The corollary to this argument is that most environmental issues routinely blamed on individual behavior pale in comparison to the externalities from industry and commerce

People talk shutting off the faucet while brushing one's teeth but ~70% of global freshwater usage comes from agriculture and ~20% from industry, with municipalities accounting for only 10%


> The corollary to this argument is that most environmental issues routinely blamed on individual behavior pale in comparison to the externalities from industry and commerce

I agree with internalizing externalities, but let's not pretend that isn't part of individual behavior (consumer demand drives industry), or that individuals don't benefit from them in some way.


What is freshwater usage?

My water comes out of a Great Lake and substantially ends up back in it, about as clean as it came out. It's not used up. Some energy is consumed making it potable and pumping it around, and then treating it.

Farms in the Midwest happen to catch a lot of rain, are they using freshwater in a different way than an almond orchard in California, or is it the same (my expectation is that the almond orchard is considered a user and the Midwest farm is often not).


It’s a convenient distraction for people in industries that depend on externalized costs, and it indulges those prone to self-righteousness and judgment (e.g., people who moralize their transportation and diet). Heavy industry and pseudo-environmentalists are unusual bedfellows.

I distinctly remember when Teslas became popular, the reaction from environmental types was often frustration because apparently environmentalism is supposed to be about sacrifice and yet Tesla is allowing the unwashed masses to help save the planet. Similarly, when debating climate policy, some of the strongest opposition to carbon pricing would come from self-professed environmentalists who were repulsed by the idea of aligned incentives—environmentalism is a bout rejecting one’s own interests; if the cheap thing and the environmental thing are the same, how will the True Believer distinguish himself from the unwashed masses? There is a deep attachment to pennywise and pound foolish “personal responsibility” solutions.


Well, the freshwater argument could be extended to individual behavior simply by saying: eat less meat.

We produce most of our food for cattle, and cattle needs tons of freshwater (both consumed directly and indirectly).


The corporates bank on the idea that if they tell you that you're an oppressor too for using drinking straws, you'll see them as the good guys who can be trusted to keep the world safe (from you, and from the 8 billion poors just like you) and therefore not, say, overthrow them using force.

You bought a latte last February? Well, then, you're also a buyer of human labor. You're a capitalist, too. The only difference between you and Elon Musk is that he's smarter. If capitalism is a problem, then you're part of the problem, because you do after all buy things. If you really believed in your anti-capitalist rhetoric, you'd grow the beans hydroponically in your basement (capabilities that, if you were serious, you would surely possess even if you weren't born into the tiny minority who actually benefit from the widespread and rigid enforcement of asymmetric state services called "property rights").

Meanwhile, the world is on track to be J. G. Ballard's Drowned World by the end of the century due to the persistence of a moribund socioeconomic system with no exit strategy or real means of improvement.


> The corollary to this argument is that most environmental issues routinely blamed on individual behavior pale in comparison to the externalities from industry and commerce

That is the result of a decades old campaign strategy by BP and others [1].



As an example of this, most trash on the side of roads comes from stuff falling off commercial trucks, sanitation trucks, work trucks. Not from people chunking junk out the window of their car. Yet all the guilt is placed on individuals.


Water shortage isn't a real environmental issue. It's a result of people building enough water production capacity for most of their needs but not too much excess for peaks. We can simply buy more fresh water if we want more. And of course it's renewable so there's no long term value in trying to reduce usage.


For people that don’t know the math behind this, it is astounding.

>when you double the weight per axle, you increase the road damage by 16 times

>For example, while a truck axle carrying 18,000 pounds is only 9 times heavier than a 2,000-pound automobile axle, it does 5,000 times more damage.


This is why arguments that road-maintenance taxes should be applied to BEVs and bicycles are horseshit. Everything lighter than 4,000 pounds is essentially a rounding error as far as damage to road surface goes.


Mind throwing a resource that I could review about this? I'd love to share it with my friends, as well.


I don't find trucks and commercial vehicles getting a pass all that strange, they are far more essential than passenger vehicles.

I consider most roads and basically all highways as meant for them, passenger vehicles are the luxury.


The interstate highway system was not built for commercial trucking.

> In the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938, Congress asked the BPR for a report on "the feasibility of building, and cost of, superhighways... including the feasibility of a toll system on such roads." The BPR based its report on data collected from extensive highway planning surveys that had been conducted around the country beginning in 1935. The origin-and-destination surveys showed that transcontinental traffic was limited, with traffic heaviest around cities and in interregional movements. Given the low income of most motorists, toll roads would have a traffic-repelling character. As a result, most routes would not carry enough traffic to generate sufficient revenue to pay off bonds needed to finance their construction.

Instead, the BPR recommended construction of a network of toll-free express highways. The BPR's description of "A Master Plan for Free Highway Development" was its first description of what would become the Interstate System. Based on the survey data, the BPR explained that the primary justification for the network was passenger traffic, particularly congested city traffic, not interstate trucking. In fact, the report made little reference to trucks. [0]

Commercial trucking would not start to take foothold over rail until the 1960s, primarily under President Johnson.



Freight is far easier to transport using rail. However, the massive subsidies that road freight receives over other means of transport (i.e. the use of the road infrastructure basically for free, as they don't pay for maintance according to the damage they cause) makes rail financially unattractive in many cases.


No, not at all. There's just no need whatsoever for trucks.

We could simply use rail.

The idea that folks on bicycles should be subject to gigantic, badly designed commercial vehicles while going about their business is absurd and a product of decades upon decades of lobbying.


Trucks suck. Even with the US' road-friendly policies, transporting goods via truck is twelve times as expensive as by rail.


The answer as always is TRAINS! MORE TRAINS! For the love of the Earth and all that is sacred we need more trains! Trams, commuter rail, low gauge freight, high speed rail, street cars, metros and parks with little trains to ride on! Not rubber or plastic, steel on steel!

Cars should be something that only a few people really need. Unfortunately auto makers and oil companies have had a huge influence on our government and society since World War II. The result is this stupid nonsense where you can't even go to a GROCERY STORE without some form of car. Where our train tracks are rotting and rail lines are slowly disappearing. Where you can't even go out your back door without seeing a monstrously loud big rig turning acres of asphalt into rutted gravel.


Build more trains, and then make smaller trucks that are locally bound.


That's already what's happening.

The US has some of the best railways in the world. It's just that for various institutional reasons the Americans suck at passenger rail, so people totally ignore that their freight rail works really, really well.

Guess which part of the industry is in government hands, and which part is privatised and deregulated?


> If tire wear is proportional to road wear

It's not though, rendering the point moot. They are two vastly different materials with different models of wear.

A quick thought experiment would make this very apparent: Do trucks need to replace tires at magnitudes less distance travelled than cars? Do cars tires last 100x longer than motorbike tires?


Your thought experiment incorrectly assumes trucks, cars, and motorbikes have the same number and size of tires. Trucks have more, larger tires to allow for more wear between replacements.


That's a whataboutism. Many countries cannot survive without long haul trucking.

Many individuals can survive without a car given the right municipal commitment.


Isn’t that flawed logic? If you’re proposing that one of these issues can be fixed with more infrastructure, then couldn’t either? Rail is nice.


We survived without long haul trucking for the majority of the industrial age.


Yes, Algeria, which is like 90% desert. Not the US though. Instead, US individuals can't survive without a car due to how your cities are built.


Cars don’t get a free pass.

But literally any time someone says X is a big source of pollution, someone always screams that Y is worse so let’s stop focusing on X.

Then when people talk about Y, forget it, here’s Z and it’s the real problem.

They’re all bad. It’s not like there’s one single person on earth who only has time to focus on one single problem. There’s billions.


Ok, let's plug in X Y and Z. Suppose X is pollution due to letters-in-a-bottle thrown in the sea, Y is pollution due to humans peeing in it, and Z is pollution due to oil spills. Which problem should we focus on?


All? It's not a single person picking an enviornmental issue to work on, it's all of us.

What kind of deflection are trying to pass off?


Aah, i think i see a pattern here, now. Is the answer maybe: All three?

Yes, yes, i'd like to solve: A, B and C!


Did you respond to the wrong post?


It's a classic whataboutism distraction attack on the conversation.

whataboutisms aren't bad because they're wrong - they are bad because they are a distraction. Either the commenter is trying to turn the conversation to a different topic they prefer to advocate for, satisfy their ego that they know more, or they are simply attempting to disrupt discourse.

In reality, the focus should be placed on solutions that have the greatest net positive impact. The size of the problems can guide, but some problems are more fundamentally difficult to solve (which makes them useful whataboutisms).

Of course, if we also added the criteria of "We should only debate things on a forum that the members of the forum actually have the ability to effect change on", then 90% of political posts would disappear.




I'm not sure if it was your intent, but that comparison makes the fishing output seem even more outsized to me, given the size of the auto industry.


From a damage perspective the two couldn't be more different as well. Lost fishing gear is large bulky items that trap & kill sealife, damage habitat, etc. Whereas we aren't entirely sure what downsides micro-plastics have, I'm sure over time we'll discover issues. But, where we stand today we know that we have a clear and present danger from the fishing gear.


tire particulate is known to be toxic, up to levels that are lethal to wildlife in roadside streams


> I'm sure over time we'll discover issues. But, where we stand today we know that we have a clear and present danger from the fishing gear.

Whereas today, we already see the present danger of micro plastics.. Just because fishing takes part on 80% of the globe as opposed to the <20% we drive on, I think the numbers are worse.

Maybe lets not disregard the downsides just yet.

EDIT: Both are bad.. Plastic isn't helping anyone. Marine or mammal .


From a cleanup perspective, I'd much rather have it consolidated into relatively few large chunks...




This seems like needless injection of your pet issue into an only tangentially related subject. Cars are used for a huge fraction of the transportation in the world. It would be surprising if the oceans weren't full of tire dust and so on. (inb4 anyone construes this as an endorsement of the status quo wrt micro-plastics)

The fact that the commercial fishing industry manages to dump 1/4 of the tonnage of plastic into the ocean despite only a fraction of the human man hours dedicated to its operation and a fraction of the rolling/floating stock is pretty impressive. You'd think they were just throwing nets overboard.


The big concern around fishing gear is that it is specifically designed to catch marine life, so when it is lost or deliberately discarded in the ocean, it continues to kill for years for no reason at all.

The movie Seaspiracy makes this point in a very graphic way:

This fact-check runs through all the points of the video in 15 minutes:


It's hard to take that trailer for Seaspiracy seriously.

> "We've all heard about blood diamonds. This is blood shrimp." ... "The solution is to leave the sea alone."

It's like a high school teenager wrote this.


This is just a silly red herring - the two issues are not mutually exclusive and addressing the one does not detract from addressing the other. Can someone help me understand why people think that thinking this way is productive, or intelligent, or… anything positive? I truly do not understand it at all. On so many articles the top/highly rated comments are just variations of ‘oh, but this other thing is even worse!’ Why is that?


Pretty sure most plastic eventually becomes microplastic. So, the fishing waste is doubly bad because it chokes and traps aquatic life while on its way to doing whatever it is that microplastics do.


I'm sure you mean well by posting this, but comments like this aren't really helpful. Every time anything environmental gets posted here there's always someone saying "but other issue is more severe".

If we take this attitude then nothing will ever be fixed. This isn't really a zero sum game - some people with the knowledge/motivation/clout can try to fix plastic waste from fishing equipment while some other people with the knowledge/motivation/clout can simultaneously try to fix plastic waste from road tyres.

The fact that OP posted this specific article about fishing plastic pollution doesn't mean that they or anyone else aren't concerned by other sources of pollution, or that they're not trying to fix them too. Do you expect people to exclusively talk about the single issue that's most harmful at the exclusion of everything else? Doesn't that just result in much less getting done?

This kind of whataboutism is counterproductive.


I don't think he means well. He probably doesn't care about the environment because of selfish reasons but knows you can't use that as an argument, hence the whataboutism


100 million pounds of lost gear by the fishing industry is such a ridiculous underestimate that, judging by some of the comments here, make people believe this number to be somehow OK. The fishing industry has been dodging responsibility for ocean pollution and habitat destruction for forever, good to see more research that people can use to put pressure on them to actually give a s** and change their ways.


My first thought as well that it's a massive underestimate. I live on a fishing island in Iceland (Commercial fishing, not quaint little boats like some people imagine) and there are piles of nets everywhere the size of houses, a factory that does nothing but make new plastic nets 2 shifts a day, and we can remove several large black garbage bags worth of fishing junk a day from just a few of the beaches surrounding just our 3km across island.


The crazy part about this is how this is the fishermen shitting where they are eating. All of the ocean pollution contributes directly to collapsing fish populations, which puts them right out of a job. Why doesn't the appeal of "if you keep doing what you're doing you won't be able to keep fishing, and your children definitely won't be fishermen" work?

I get that they are trapped in the cycle of overfishing, but it seems like cutting back on the pollution is a first step everybody could take.


A lot of fishers where I live blame the damage on previous generations. They aren’t the problem, it was the people before them. They talk about how sustainable their practices are (despite stocks decreasing every year).

We had massive glass sponge reefs. They were destroyed by trawlers. That’s prohibited now. I suppose we’re expected to believe the industry wouldn’t be trawling today if they were allowed to, but I don’t buy it. Although the glass sponges were nurseries for untold millions of fish and their prey, and those stocks are so incredibly depleted and unable to recover, they still fish every single bit of quota they can and fight tooth and nail to increase quotas. Many complain that they aren’t allowed to trawl, too.

I suppose what it comes down to is that everyone thinks they are the exception. Even our meat eating practices on land are so resource intensive and absurd, but no one things they are complicit in an activity like what we’re seeing with fishing. None of this is sustainable, but we’re all participating and all very sure it’s someone else’s fault.

Really, sustainable fishing at our population scale seems like an absurd notion.


In many places trawlers are to fishers what trucks are to cyclists, so there is some truth when people blame trawlers for destroyed reefs. Bottom trawlers in particular bulldoze the ocean floor, and trawler fleet are basically floating factories that operate by moving to new locations once a current location is dried up and destroyed. Trawler fleet also tend to focus on creating oil and animal feed, which mean they don't really care what they catch.

Once an area is destroyed in this fashion there isn't much future for fish or fishermen. Fishermen can continue to fish or not, but without a healthy ocean floor the fish won't reproduce, the nurseries won't be there, and parasites/diseases will wreck the remaining population for decades. The best society can do is to help fishermen to move to a different profession and turn the harbor into apartments.


> it seems like cutting back on the pollution is a first step everybody could take.

Just a simple tragedy of the commons I guess. The obvious steps towards sustainable fishing involves either higher cost or lower yields in the short-medium term. The few who would be willing to would go out of business. Since fish don't generally respect borders, the same dilemma occurs even between countries. If you voluntary give up your yield, other countries get more.

The only way I know to solve this is to properly price externalities, Milton Friedman style.


Tragedy of the Commons


If you'd like to see anecdotal impacts, you can watch the sad yet thrilling and satisfying YouTube channel Ocean Conservation Namibia, which features a team that captures seals and untangles them from fishing gear:


Lest the headline not be obvious, this is industrial fishing gear.


Just to expand for those who haven't read the article - These types of nets are specifically designed to catch and trap sea life, so cause outsized damage to ecosystems than their size/weight/volume might suggest.

The images you might see of a turtle with a 6-pack ring around a flipper are nothing compared to the damage a torn off chunk of a trawler's net might cause.


...and in case anyone isn't clear - over half of it is from Chinese fishing fleets.


Not to minimize the impact to ocean life and the environment, but lost fishing gear costs money. The upside of which is that there is direct financial incentive to recover lost gear. I know nothing about this space, but a former coworker started a company about ten years ago in part to allow fishers to track and recover their gear:


One report I read was that much of it was discarded as it got too damaged to use. So hardly an accidental loss.


I would say the bigger incentive is not to lose the gear in the first place, but even that doesn't seem to be enough.


In some kinds of fishing, it seems they deploy nets and then collect them later, so this would help them not lose it in the first place. Also, location information is always good to have and is useful for more than just finding lost stuff.


It depend a lot on the kind of fishing operation. At small scale the fishing gear is a large part of the investment. This is why repairing nets is a large part of those peoples time. Tracking is a nice technological solution, through at small scale the money is tight and local knowledge usually mean that they know where the net is by memory/intuition and keeping track of where the winds/currents are going.

Large scale fishing fleet however do not generally repair fishing nets, especially trawlers. It not economical to spent time and manpower for it, and since they are out at sea for weeks/months there isn't any space. The law require them to dispose broken nets at landfills but that is a cost center. As such it is suspected is that they just intentionally throw the nets over board.


> The law require them to dispose broken nets at landfills but that is a cost center.

You could fix that by moving the cost. Make nets really expensive to purchase, and instead give a deposit back at the landfill. This way, there would be a profit in properly disposing of nets.

Of course, it might not be practical to suddenly have to watch for contraband smuggled nets at the borders.


The nets wear out. There is no incentive to recover here. Most of these nets are dumped when they develop too many holes to be useful. It's easier than bringing the shredded net back to shore and trying to dispose of it.

Chinese shipping fleets do this routinely.


Edit: wrong math, disregard

Not to downplay this issue (its important). But I sort of dont believe the estimates. Theres 4.6 million fishing vessles globally. That would be 22 tonnes per vessel or 46,000 pounds. I dont see 1 vessel producing 46k pounds of plastic waste per year unless they are literally dumping their fishing nets into the ocean purposefully and repeatedly.


100 million pounds divided by 4.6 million fishing vessels is about 22 pounds per year. I think you confused tons with pounds.


Shoot you're right.


> More than 100 million pounds of plastic from industrial fishing gear pollute the oceans each year—threatening marine life

... does the actual fishing itself not ultimately also threaten said marine life?


Fishing can be done sustainably, and is in some fisheries.


That's definitely a claim but I assure you no human being has a clue of how to manage the ocean - it's kind of ludicrous.

And by the fact that the ocean is so large, it industrial fishing is notoriously impossible to regulate - meaning that even if you "fish sustainably", it doesn't really matter - a large part of the market remains and will remain unregulated, by nature.


That’s a bit excessive. No human knows how to manage fish populations?


Unless it's some guy with a fishing rod or anchovies -- no industrial fishing is not sustainable. Even salmon farms are fed with 20x the mass of smaller wild fish from the ocean.

I love eating fish but this is a fact we all have to face.


It is indeed a fact we have to face, and the best way to do it is to stop eating fish, if you have the luxury to be able to do that and other foods are available.


>Even salmon farms are fed with 20x the mass of smaller wild fish from the ocean.

The feed ratio for farmed salmon isn't 20, it's 1.2.

12 pounds of feed for 10 pounds of salmon.

The ratio is about 6 for beef, 4 for pork, 1.6 for poultry.

People who don't know things or make up statistics to support their environmental doom narrative do harm to the causes they are trying to help. Anyone skeptical of you can easily find your numbers are false, and very very false at that. Why would anybody believe any of the rest of what you have to say when clearly it's demonstrable that you don't know what you're talking about on an easily countered point.




This was also my key takeaway from watching "Seaspiracy" on Netflix


Big business ties

The Nature Conservancy has ties to many large companies, including those in the oil, gas, mining, chemical and agricultural industries.[42] As of 2016, its board of directors included the retired chairman of Duke Energy, and executives from Merck, HP, Google and several financial industry groups.[43] It also has a Business Council which it describes as a consultative forum that includes Bank of America, BP America, Chevron, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, Duke Energy, General Mills, Royal Dutch Shell, and Starbucks.[44] The organization faced criticism in 2010 from supporters for its refusal to cut ties with BP after the Gulf oil spill.[45][46]

Writer and activist Naomi Klein has strongly criticized The Nature Conservancy for earning money from an oil well on land it controls in Texas and for its continued engagement with fossil fuel companies.[47][48] The Nature Conservancy responded by arguing that it had no choice under the terms of a lease it signed years prior with an oil and gas company and later came to regret.[47]

In 2020, Bloomberg published an article claiming that some of the companies (such as JPMorgan Chase, Disney, and BlackRock) that purchase carbon credits from The Nature Conservancy were purchasing carbon credits for forests that did not need protection.[49]


This has absolutely nothing to do with the article.

Also, almost all large corporations donate to all major charities - that's standard corporate governance. It doesn't mean they somehow influence or undermine articles like this.

Selecting the oil companies alone from the list of donors to imply there's some influence operation going on is highly misleading.


Patagonia sells a few items are are made from recycled fishing nets. I have a hat and swim trunks made from it.


They also sell apparel treated with pfoas/pfas which are gradually polluting the ocean more and more, indefinitely.


by this point, being able to eat (like in crimes of the future), or at the least, resist eating plastics and other toxic ubiquitous substances (PFAS) seems like the most viable strategy.