And Korea, a seemingly unlikely player on the field that is the northernmost part of the world, has got on board his mission to make fishing sustainable.
Roger B. Larsen, professor of fisheries technology at the Arctic University of Norway (UiT), on Feb. 3 held up a thin red twine made of nylon that will likely outlive every living person currently on the planet.
“If I lose this twine in the Barents Sea, let’s say at 2 or 300 meters of depth with temperature close to zero, we may come back in 600 years and find it again,” said Larsen to the Korea JoongAng Daily on the research vessel Helmer Hanssen docked in Tromso, Norway.
Larsen is leading the SFI Dsolve, also called the Centre for Research-based Innovation — Biodegradable plastics for marine applications, which is a research project headquartered in Norway to develop and deploy biodegradable fishing gear.
Kicked off in 2020, the Dsolve project aims to combat the increasing amount of plastic litter in the ocean caused by large-scale commercial fishing with more sustainable fishing gear by 2028.
The amount of plastic waste dumped in the ocean is expected to triple from 9 to 14 million tons per year in 2016 to 23 to 37 million tons by 2040, according to the UN Environment Programme.
Fisheries, a big contributor of marine plastic litter, generate 640,000 tons of plastic waste in the ocean per year.
In Norway, seafood is the second-largest export industry, following petroleum. By 2022, Norway’s marine fisheries and aquaculture export volume reached a record 151.4 billion krones ($14.9 billion), or 2.9 million tons. The global seafood market is estimated to reach $138.7 billion by 2027, with an average growth of 2.9 percent per year, according to ReportLinker’s forecast released in April last year.
But as the fishing industry grew, the use of plastic fishing gear grew as well. Petro-based fishing gear such as gillnets, pots and lines often gets lost in the ocean, which may take decades, if not centuries, to decompose.
“If we lose a gillnet or a pot, it stays in nature and continues to fish for many, many decades before they collapse and degrade,” said Larsen. "And this we call ghost fishing."
Ghost fishing, or ghost gear, eats up the fishing industry's productivity, muddles the waters by making forecasting difficult, and, of course, wreaks environmental havoc on the marine ecosystem.
In the Arctic Ocean, the plastic waste issue gets even more complicated because the cold and dark environment slows down decomposition, according to Larsen.
"This is why we started to develop materials that are biodegradable, to control [the fishing gear's] lifetime better," said Larsen. "The end product will be minerals, water and CO2, and no microplastic."
Dsolve is currently working with two Korean companies: LG Chem and S-EnPol.
Founded in 2011, S-EnPol is a Wonju, Gangwon-based biodegradable plastic supplier.
“S-EnPol will produce and supply biodegradable gillnet and longline monofilament for the Dsolve project, based on our technological capabilities accumulated over the past years during joint projects,” said Kim Sei-hoon, CEO of S-EnPol, to the Korea JoongAng Daily on Feb. 8.
S-Enpol tested its biodegradable fishing gear materials in the ocean from 2016 to 2019 in collaboration with Norway’s Sintef, which is also taking part in the Dsolve project.
LG Chem supplies resins for biodegradable fishing gear.
“While LG Chem is a chemical manufacturer, we are not operating any fisheries-related businesses and do not directly produce fishing gear,” explained an LG Chem spokesperson. "So we are working with Dsolve, which has abundant experience and expertise in the area, to test the new application and performance of our biodegradable plastics."
The goal is to test various applications of biodegradable products, while pushing for the company’s sustainability agenda and preservation of the marine ecosystem, according to LG Chem.
LG Chem developed the world’s first biodegradable materials with the same physical properties as polypropylene in 2020.
By Shin Ha-Nee [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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