Location: Beirut, Lebanon
Activity: Resource efficiency & sustainable waste management
The impact of artisanal and commercial fishing lasts long after the final boat has moored at day’s end. When done carelessly, fishing activity can lead to the accidental accumulation of marine litter — old nets, hooks, and lines discarded into the ocean and onto the shoreside, waiting to ensnare marine life in the months and weeks to come. The damage caused by discarded nets is so acute it has received an eerie name: ghost fishing.
Dr. Roy Abijaoude and his team at Lebanese Developers inadvertently stumbled on the trouble caused by these discarded nets. The NGO had been operating vocational training sessions across the country since 2006, and by early 2017 had expanded its scope to train women in Northern Lebanon to produce and repair fishing nets.
“We soon realized that whenever there was a problem, the fishermen would throw the old net in the water, or on the shore,” Dr. Abijaoude explained of their moment of realization. He recalls seeing old nets washed up and wrapped in the sandy shore. “That was when we said we should be doing something about this.”
After searching for similar projects around Europe and the Mediterranean, Dr. Abijaoude was encouraged to apply for the Beyond Plastic Med (BeMed) Initiative. Lebanese Developers was selected as one of 11 groups to receive funding for their project, which collects and recycles discarded fishing nets on the shores of Northern Lebanon — and prevents fishermen from improper disposal in the first place.
Raising awareness among Lebanese fishermen:
Dr. Abijaoude is a realist: to have a project like theirs be sustainable, he understood you have to get buy-in from the fishermen themselves.
Studies suggest fishermen in Lebanon and the rest of the Mediterranean Basin are aware of the challenges presented by marine litter. A report from the UN’s Environment Programme found that 71% of fishermen in the region thought ghost nets presented a serious problem, but that they were often less aware of the exact consequences and how to reduce them when going about their daily livelihoods.
One of the recommendations from the UNEP’s study was that more awareness raising and waste management campaigns needed to be operated locally. That is where a group like Lebanese Developers can come in.
The NGO has started a series of awareness sessions with local fishermen, where they reveal the damages caused by nets discarded at shore and sea. “We tell them how the fish can get caught, and how the fish can eat the nets and plastic — then you feed your family with that same fish,” Dr. Abijaoude says.
They have also partnered with a fishermen cooperative to set up a space where fishermen can dispose of their old nets, knowing they will be collected for recycling, rather than end up as marine litter. These collection points can play a key role in frontline prevention, since a main reason nets are often discarded is because it is a more simple solution. The task of Lebanese Developers is to make it easier to recycle than to pollute.
Dr. Abijaoude admits they have faced challenges of their own. “We are dealing with people who have a different kind of thinking,” he explains. “If they don’t get anything in return for recycling, they’ve told us they would still throw their net in the water. They don’t have that environmental thinking yet.”
Recycling old fishing nets:
The lack of inherent motivation to recycle is where incentivization comes into play.
Right now, old nets are either collected from the fishermen cooperative or plucked off the shore by Lebanese Developers’ Outreach Coordinator. After collection, the nets are cleaned and shredded using a machine the NGO bought and imported for the project. Once shredded, the old net is put into bags and given to factories that produce nylon pellets which can be used for electrical wiring, food containers, and other items.
Lebanese Developers makes a small amount of money from the shredded net it sells, and this is where the NGO has the flexibility to incentivize the collection and recycling of old nets. “We would prefer not to pay fishermen liquid money, but we have been looking at some sort of in-kind incentives like fishing nets and other equipment,” Dr. Abijaoude says. “We need to see what their reaction would be so they actually continue to recycle.”
While this project of Lebanese Developers is the first of its kind in Northern Lebanon, there are plenty examples worldwide of recycled fishing nets yielding creative results. From skateboards and sunglasses to high fashion, entrepreneurs have proven that one industry’s waste is another’s treasure.
Expansion at sea:
A key area of growth for the project is to expand net collection beyond the shores. “The second part of our project would be finding a way to clean and remove the old nets from the ocean floor,” Dr. Abijaoude says, noting the larger financial commitment that would come with the use of boats and scuba divers. “Until we can do that, we’re focused on prevention.”
Funding from BeMed takes Lebanese Developers’ project up until March 2018. After that, Dr. Abijaoude says they plan to ask for a short extension before converting the project into a self-sustaining initiative using the money brought in from selling shredded net.
Meanwhile, the fishing net project has also helped Lebanese Developers see their other projects in new light. The discarded net recycling is their main environmental initiative, and much more of the NGO’s work focuses on vocational and employment training and safe internet use by kids. “We are planning to clean part of the northern coast now, and involve some youth in voluntary work,” Dr. Abijaoude explains of an upcoming project. “We want to involve them in the environment side of things and have them do work that is good for our country.”
For Dr. Abijaoude, this is what it takes — one mindset shifted, whether it is for a young person or a fishermen. One net collected, one piece of trash picked off the shore, is one less present to pollute the Mediterranean.