Business & Economy

Chile’s small fishermen lagging behind in plastic net recycling

By Iñaki Martinez Azpiroz

Santiago, Nov 30 (EFE) – Chile’s fishing industry has been recycling tons of plastic nets annually for years, but that practice does not extend to thousands of small fishermen who lack the resources to prevent their used nets from being disposed of through burning or dumped in a landfill.

In a cove where artisanal fisherman Julio works off the coast of the Chilean port city of Valparaiso, frayed nets that are now unusable pile up waiting to be taken to a waste dump.

Ideally the nets “would be taken away so they have another use,” but the reality is no one will recycle them, he told Efe.

That response also was echoed by all of the other small fishermen Efe interviewed.

“Once the fishing’s done, the waste truck arrives and the nets go to the dump; there’s no policy for recycling them, it’s nobody’s concern. It’s a latent issue for us fishermen, but the authorities turn a deaf ear,” said Manuel Rojas, another small fisherman from Valparaiso.

Artisanal fishermen’s coves used to be filled with people spinning nets made of twine, which could be repeatedly reused by repairing frayed knots; that tradition, however, disappeared with the advent of plastic nets, which saved time but cannot be repaired.

“All the old people used to make nets, but nowadays they don’t,” another small fisherman from Valparaiso, Tito Contreras, told EFE, recalling that plastic nets are preferable to avoid the hours-long process of repairing knots.

Today’s fishing nets are mostly made of braided plastic filaments that are glued together, contain no knots and have a lifespan ranging from a couple of days to three weeks, depending on how much damage they suffer.

The lack of recycling by small-scale fishermen contrasts with the progress the industrial fishing industry in Chile – which is the world’s second-largest salmon producer after Norway and also accounts for 34 percent of aquaculture production in the Americas – has made in giving a second life to its plastic nets.

For the past five years, the Sonapesca fishing industry association has been carrying out an initiative to convert unusable fishing nets into toys, carpets and other plastic items, that organization’s manager, Hector Bacigalupo, told EFE.

Sonapesca’s program collects the nets from industrial fishing boats and sends them to companies that specialize in recycling them.

The success of the initiative led that association to extend it to other Latin American countries – Panama, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador and Mexico – through the Latin American Alliance for Sustainable Fisheries.

A total of 6,000 tons of nets have already been recycled through the combined efforts of Chile and those other countries.

Sonapesca also has started a pilot project in several Chilean coves to recycle the plastic from the unusable nets of small fishermen, who told Efe they welcome these types of projects but stressed they cannot go it alone.

“It would be good if they recycled the nets so as not to harm the environment, because the plastic nets inside the landfill pollute just the same,” Julio said. EFE


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