On Sunday July 16 and Monday July 17, 2017, the EU Policy Lab joined the partners of the Circular Ocean project in Reykjavic to prepare and run a scenario exploration session on the issue of reusing and recycling waste fishing nets and ropes.

The Circular Ocean project

An estimated 640,000 tonnes of fishing nets are left in the oceans around the globe every year. It might seem like a small fraction of the 8-12 million tonnes of waste plastics entering the oceans every year, but fishing nets cause a disproportionate amount of damage by continuing their deadly task of catching fish, seals, whales, turtles, damaging ecosystems, being caught in boat propellers and more. Their estimated life if left to their own devices is 600 years… The purpose of the Circular Ocean project is to put an end to this problem by inspiring communities to realise the hidden economic opportunities of discarded fishing nets and ropes in the Northern Periphery and Arctic Region.

Just like the Scenario Exploration System, the Circular Ocean project is an award winning EC funded project which is also considered by DG REGIO as a flagship of regional policy.

The annual Circular Ocean project conference in Reykjavic, hosted by the Innovation Centre Iceland, brought together over 30 people from very diverse horizons (from an Egyptian trader looking for waste fishing nets to reuse in other functions in the Middle East to an American fisheries professor working for FAO passing by environmental consultants, researchers, designers, environmental NGOs and government agencies).

The Monday morning programme gave a very thorough overview of the issue, of its consequences and of the achievements of the project so far to document it and to find practical ways to deal with it. It is an issue which is very widespread and subjected to very different realities in Norway, Iceland, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark and Greenland. The economics of reuse and recycling depend mostly on the logistics of collection and on the material of the fishing nets. As a high value plastic, Nylon tends to be easily collected and recycled, while polyethylene and polypropylene are often abandoned.

The Scenario Exploration System session

On the Monday afternoon, all participants took part in a scenario exploration session. For this session, we used an adaptation of the Scenario Exploration System (SES) based on our sustainable transition scenarios for which new roles were developed: an SME involved in recycling or reuse, a fisheries agency, a harbour master and a fisherman. We had held a final exploration master training session on Sunday afternoon to be able to hold several tables in parallel and prepare for harvesting. To ensure consistency and coherence in the exercise we all used the same scenarios (Local self-reliance and Shared circular strategies) in the same order. People were free to join any table they wanted. As a result, the session at the conference went very smoothly with four tables in parallel. All participants enjoyed the experience and we had an interesting feedback discussion at the end. All tables produced a set of lessons learned from the scenario exploration and a set of recommendations that will be used by the project. Without entering into specifics, examples of the points that came up were:

  • It is necessary for all stakeholders to work together to make a difference in this issue
  • Taxation will have to be adapted to improve the economics of recycling and reuse
  • Some regulatory interventions will be necessary to stop some detrimental practices.

The project will produce a more complete report.

Regarding the future use of the SES, now that five people from Circular Ocean have experience as exploration masters and following two successful sessions, the project plans to continue using the tool in national events.

Beyond what I learned about fisheries and innovations in trawler fishing, my personal learning about the SES was two-fold. First of all, it was the first time that we had a ‘uniform’ SES session, i.e. that all tables were exploring the same scenarios in the same order and with the same specific roles. It was clear from the debriefing session that the outcomes across tables were quite comparable, even if some came up with different ideas. This provided a first demonstration that the results of the SES could be to some extent reproducible. My second learning was related to the accumulation of experience in training exploration masters.

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