Fishers of Plastic Cleaning up Mediterranean One Bag at a Time.

A Greek fisherman uses his winch to haul a discarded fishing net raised from the depths by divers [Jason Psaropoulos/Al Jazeera]
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By Jonathan Mason-June 5th, 2023.

The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)’s latest measurements have found an average of 64 pieces of microplastic – fragments smaller than 5mm (0.2 inches) across – in every square metre (10 square feet) of the Mediterranean Sea.

Plastic takes years to break up and degrade at sea. Such a quantity on the surface suggests a staggering level of pollution below.

UNEP is convening a global treaty conference to cut plastic pollution and recycle. If agreed, it would come into force incrementally beginning next year.

Enaleia, a Greek non-profit organisation has already got started with a cost efficient program that pays fishermen to turn in plastics caught in their nets and now has 3,000 fishermen in Greece, Italy, and  Spain participating.

There are an estimated 14,500 licensed fishing boats in Greece. If every one of them brought its plastic to port, they could gather tonnes a day. The problem was convincing fishermen to go the extra mile to participate, but once the program got started, they found that fisherman were recruiting other fishermen, and the program expanded rapidly.

Fishermen receive a nominal stipend of up to 50 euros ($53) a month, provided by blue chip donors such as Pfizer, Gant, Allianz and the shipowner, Costas Lemos’ Foundation, but conviction is what really drives them.


“Nets have cork along their top edge and lead weights along the bottom edge, and are meant to stand vertically in the water,” fisherman Nikolaos Mentis told Al Jazeera.

“Plastic bags drift into nets, and by catching the current tip them sideways so you can’t catch any fish.”

Plastic also causes expensive mechanical problems.

“If ever I see a plastic bag floating around that might get caught in the propeller I try to gather it up,” said Mentis. “If I’m not affected, someone else will be. It’s not just plastic shopping bags, but also large, thick nylon sheeting used by the fish farms.”

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