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Proposals Unveiled To Cut Red Tape For Divers Retrieving Marine Litter

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A UK government consultation has been launched with the intention of making it easier and less expensive for divers to remove litter from the seabed.

Currently, marine licenses may be required for divers who retrieve marine litter, including abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) – also known as 'ghost gear' – during the course of a dive. The existing Marine Management Organisation (MMO) rules state that 'a lifting bag can be used to remove an object (including marine litter) up to 100kg provided the object has been there for less than 12 months. Beyond that, a marine licence is required.'

The existing rules of what constitutes marine litter does not include ghost gear. Hence, organisations such as Ghost Fishing UK have been required to invest in licenses in order to remove abandoned fishing gear, particularly from the UK's shipwrecks, where discarded nets and lines often collect.

In the new consultation launched by Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey, divers will be exempt from the current requirement to have a marine licence, thus 'streamlining the existing regime and helping to tackle the 640,000 tonnes of ghost gear lost in our oceans each year', according to an official press release from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

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Ghost gear traps and kills a huge amount of sea life long after the nets have been abandoned (Photo: Christine Grosart/Ghost Fishing UK)

'Diving communities play an important role in protecting our marine environment and tackling the litter and ghost gear that blights our oceans,' said Coffey. 'We want to make it easier for divers and other sea users to play their part, which is why we are looking at how we can cut red tape while still maintaining the highest protections for our precious marine life.'

The proposals to tackle marine litter form part of a wider consultation on changes to the marine licensing system, designed to simplify the current rules and reduce unnecessary burdens on divers. Existing marine licencing rules were introduced in 2011 to ensure activities such as construction and dredging are only permitted when they have taken into account environmental impact.

However, in recognition of the environmental benefits that marine litter retrieval can bring, the licensing rules have now been reviewed to allow divers to use equipment such as a lifting bag, a vessel or an aircraft to remove marine litter, while ensuring they still uphold the highest protections for habitats, protected species and items of archaeological or historical interest. 

Rich Walker, chairman of Ghost Fishing UK, told DIVE in a statement: 'Ghost Fishing UK is very pleased that Defra has decided to consult with the public on the matter of exemptions for divers removing marine litter, which includes abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear (ALDFG). Fishing nets and other ALDFG are a constant presence on the wrecks and reefs frequented by UK divers, and its removal and recycling is a never-ending process.'

'The financial barrier placed in the way of the volunteers who spend their free time and money to help with a problem not of their own making seems an irrational approach,' said Walker. 'A better solution is very much needed.'  

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Ghost Fishing UK divers freeing marine life from entanglement (Photo: Christine Grosart/Ghost Fishing UK)

Alex Warzynski, Chair of the British Sub-Aqua Club said: 'As divers we see first-hand the damage to the marine environment done by abandoned and lost fishing gear along with other marine litter, and anything that Defra can do to make it easy for divers to clean up without fear of doing the wrong thing will help.'

The UK Government joined the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) in 2017, a consortium founded by World Animal Protection to collectively address the issues surrounding ALDFG. The new proposals will also allow harbour authorities to remove all marine litter as previously they have only been able to remove objects that present an immediate risk of obstruction or danger to navigation.

Last week's announcement is the latest step in a series of government initiatives to tackle marine litter in the world's oceans. A ban on the sale of products containing microbeads was broadly welcomed when it came into effect in June 2018. Plans to ban the sale of single-use plastics such as straws, stirrers and cotton buds, and introduce a deposit-return scheme to encourage bottle and can recycling are also under consultation.

The consultation opened on 2 November and runs for 6 weeks. You can find the consultation and make your views known at: consult.defra.gov.uk/marine-planning-licensing-team/revisions-to-marine-licensing-exemptions/

 

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