Net-works: Teaming up against ghost fishing

Fishing nets are designed to kill fish. Which is okay, as long as they are used to feed people. Discarded fishing nets however continue to have a devastating effect on the marine ecosystem. Without feeding anybody…

It’s undeniable that healthy marine and freshwater ecosystems are essential to sustain life on our planet. Every human being depends on water to survive. However, the system is fragile. One of the most pervasive, persistent and damaging forms of pollution is the plastic debris found in our oceans. A large portion of this debris is comprised of discarded nylon fishing nets. These nets continue to kill marine life for about six hundred years after they have been thrown away. An undesirable effect that is known as ‘ghost fishing’.

The target

Net-works is an innovative, cross-sector initiative designed to solve the environmental problem of discarded fishing nets in some of the world’s poorest coastal communities, such as the Philippines and Cameroon. The Net-Works programme resulted in a community-based supply chain for collecting discarded fishing nets in rural coastal areas in the central Philippines, including the Danajon Bank, one of only six doublebarrier reefs in the world, as well as the nearby Bantayan Islands. Thanks to this programme, 80,387 kilograms of discarded fishing nets were already collected.

An unlikely collaboration

Net-works is a partnership that unites Interface, ZSL and Aquafil. Interface is the world’s largest manufacturer of carpet tile. Interface is currently working on ‘mission zero’, a company-wide promise to eliminate all negative environmental impact of their products by 2020. ZSL stands for Zoological Society of London. It is an international scientific conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. The third Net-works partner is Aquafil, a producer of Nylon 6 yarn.

Simply put, Interface provides the business strategy and start-up capital, while ZSF brings in its conservation expertise and coordinates net collection and baling and local transportation. Last but not least, Aquafil developed the regeneration process and turns waste fishing nets into 100% ECONYL© regenerated yarn. 

As Miriam Turner, Assistant Vice President Coinnovation at Interface and a co-founder of Net-Works explains: “It may seem a little crazy that a commercial carpet tile company has ended up working with the fishing community on a remote double barrier reef. But that’s the beauty of seeing design as more than just a product. Co-innovating with experts from lots of different disciplines has been brilliant; together we’ve re-imagined what the value chain could look like. Sustainability is the mother of all collaborations after all.”

Supporting local economy

The project also has a socio-economic impact. Through the collection of discarded fishing nets, fishers or other community members can earn a supplemental income. Net-Works is closely integrated with valuable community banking systems that support and strengthen the locals, developing the economy and provide new financial opportunities.