Marine minister Michael Creed has called on all Irish fishing vessels to sign up to the ‘Clean Oceans’ initiative by December 31, to achieve 100% participation in Ireland’s first coordinated scheme on land and at sea, to collect, reduce and reuse marine litter.

This scheme builds on the voluntary BIM ‘Fishing for Litter’ pilot scheme in eleven ports that has hauled over 190 tonnes since 2015.

“I recognise that coordinated action is required on land and at sea to address the serious issue of pollution of the oceans with plastics. This threatens our fish stocks, the wider marine environment and the future of our fishing industry,” he said.

Minister Creed added he was setting “a world first” by having all fishing vessels cleaning and removing plastic every day.

“This is a challenge which I am confident our fishing industry will rise to and succeed in setting an example for other nations.”

Funding under the European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) will be available for on-board storage facilities and on-shore infrastructure for ‘environmentally-friendly disposal of all plastics, waste, ‘ghost’ fishing gear etc recovered at sea. The on-shore facility will also be available to fishermen and aquaculture operators to dispose of unwanted fishing gear and other items with a plastic element.

A team representing all stakeholders and the wider community will focus on solutions for marine litter, prevention and removal and will report quarterly to BIM, for feedback to Minister Creed by the December deadline.

Contamination of the marine environment comprises eighty per cent plastics and reached 335 million metric tons world-wide in 2016. Plastics do not biodegrade but instead photo-degrade, breaking up from recognisable items of all sizes into tiny particles that pose risk to marine wildlife and the marine environmental in general.

While research is underway into the extent of the problem “we cannot afford to delay remedial actions and must act now to promote all possible measures to prevent plastics from entering our marine environment,” Minister Creed emphasised.

Patrick Murphy, chief executive of the Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation, congratulated Minister Creed on the initiative.

“We must all play our part in protecting our oceans, the fish stocks and mammals that inhabit these waters. Ireland has some of the richest fishing grounds in Europe, with a vast diversity of species. As a country we have rightly earned the reputation of producing some of the finest seafood products, which are exported globally,” he said.

He added that the ISWFPO was “committed to this challenge” to enhance the work their fishermen were already doing voluntarily, by bringing marine debris ashore at their own cost.

“We look forward to working with Minister Creed and to keeping him abreast of progress throughout the year to achieve the high standard he has set in becoming a world leader with this initiative.”