Bord Iascaigh Mhara
Circularity of Fishing Gear
A multi-stakeholder exploration of the material journey and potential circularity of fishing gear as a way to combat the volumes of marine plastic in the Irish seas in alignment with EU Directives and Global Sustainable Development Goals.



Contributing to national measures to demonstrate Good Environmental Status as required by the Marine Strategy Framework directive, Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) run the Fishing For Litter programme, which has a network of 12 ports and about 90 vessels. Since 2005/6, they’ve lead a net recycling programme that collects retired fishing gear from the ports. BIM were encouraged by their Department of Environment to investigate the potential circularity of fishing nets – a whole system challenge from net designers, manufacturers, through to end users, the fishermen with multiple touchpoints in between. The main catalyst for the event was impending legislation from the EU to reduce ocean plastic.



In 2016 Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicted that by 2050, there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish, if we didn’t change the way we managed plastic (design, create, use, reuse). Between late 2015 and early 2019, BIM retrieved 190 tonnes of marine litter from the ocean surrounding Ireland, of which a high proportion was netting.

Outputs generated from the workshop included:

  • Support for BIM’s commitments to Irelands Clean Ocean Initiative to create important baselines and reference points for the sector
  • Improvements to the circular management of fishing gear
  • Various solutions identified that demonstrate to the wider public that the sector has actions in place to reduce marine litter

11th June 2019

Circular economy: reduce, reuse, repurposing of fishing gear focus of BIM workshop in Cork.

Members of the Irish fishing sector met with harbour masters, net producers and with representatives from recycling companies and government officials in Cork today (Tuesday 11th June, 2019) to exchange ideas on the creation of a circular economy for fishing gear. The new business model would consider the full life cycle of fishing gear, in a bid to reduce its impact on the marine environment. 

The event, hosted by Bord Iascaigh Mhara ( BIM), and supported by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, marks a first for the industry, and forms part of a wider set of actions being taken by the State seafood development agency under the Clean Oceans Initiative to tackle the growing problem of marine waste.


Alena Petrikovicova ,  DG Mare, EU Commission, was one of several speakers at the workshop. Two new EU Directives, the ‘Impact of certain plastic products on environment Directive’ and ‘The Port reception facilities Directive’, focus on the use and management of plastic waste.

Catherine Morrison, Sustainability and Certification Manager, BIM said:

“ The Clean Oceans Initiative is based on the premise that collaboration between the people on the ground; the men and women who work in the fishing sector and in the wider seafood and other industries, can effect change much faster by working together under a single shared vision. Partnerships are vital if we are to address the challenge of marine waste.”

More than forty representatives attended the event held in the Clayton, Little Island in Cork city. Wholeearth Futures, specialists in circular business model planning and BDO facilitated the day-long session that included representatives from commercial organisations including Leinster Environmentals, Green Marine and Kingspan who have committed to using secondary plastics in a drive to lower their carbon footprint.

Photo: Cat



In September 2015 the United Nations published ‘The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ – 17 Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focussed on peace and prosperity for people and planet. In alignment with this, Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine launched The Clean Oceans Initiative – which initiates the retrieval of marine plastics that appear daily in local fishing nets, stored and returned to land by local fisherman, reducing pollution from the surrounding marine environment.


Key players

Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) is the Irish State agency responsible for developing the Irish Seafood Industry. In Sept 2019, BIM – who leads The Clean Ocean Initiative – was appointed one of 12, SDG national champions for four of the goals, including those particularly relevant where plastics and marine waste are concerned:

  • SDG 14: Life Below Water; a target to help prevent and reduce marine pollution.
  • SDG12: Responsible Consumption and Production; application of environmentally sound management of all waste through their life cycle.


The Insight Futures team was approach by BIM to design and co-facilitate, funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), a multi-stakeholder engagement to explore the following: the challenges posed to business as usual for fishing gear manufacturers, businesses, producer organisations, harbour management, fishing community, waste contractors; and the reporting requirements of member states – as a result of EU directives.



A group of 48 representatives from across 5 sectors: Fishing Gear Manufacturing; Catching Sector; Harbour Mastering; Waste Management; Policy, were brought together to work on ways to improve the circularity of fishing gear. Through strategic conversation and practical exercises, the group were able to build a broad, multi-stakeholder view of the Irish Fishing industry and work collectively to: understand the material journey of fishing gear; identify key stakeholders involved; and discuss synergies for circular activity to take place within the network.

Exercises were chosen to: examine the current state of the Irish fishing industry; gain insight into how future business model options for fishing gear may benefit from embedding circular patterns and design principles; and to highlight what barriers or enablers are currently in place.

The engagement kicked-off with theoretical input on the topics of: European Legislation, Directives and Responsibility Schemes; Analysis of Marine Litter; the urgency for change and the benefit of adopting Circular practices, referencing the 7 Circular Patterns.

The interactive, practical part of the workshop saw participants divided into five collaborative groups with equal representation from across all sectors, in each. The aim was to collect varied opinion and provide several possible outcomes to be taken away for further research and development in the months following the workshop.

Using methods such as: Material Journey Mapping; Stakeholder Mapping; Context Analysis; and identifying internal & external, Barriers & Enablers, allowed for a broad overview of activity within the Irish fishing Industry and where routes to circularity might be possible.


Lessons learned 

With the whole system being present, not everyone started on the same page and it was obvious that there were barriers in the room. At an ecosystem level, organisational level and an individual level. Many of these barriers were to do with business and revenue models but the most significant was mindset and fear of change. The impending legislative change acted as a convening incentive for change. Would there be a consensus or even consent to move forward collaboratively to solve this challenge.

By being able to design multiple value exchanges in and through the ecosystem, barriers were overcome, initially sceptical stakeholders became engaged and more enabling conditions for transition were created.

Everyone involved moved forward with a sense of individual responsibility, clarity of tasks, roles and responsibilities, and a determined commitment to action both individually and collectively.