Top Sources for Recycling Nylon Fishing Nets in Europe


Each year, more than eight million metric tons of plastic find their way into the world’s oceans, a significant portion of which consists of abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG).

These materials not only pose severe threats to marine life and habitats but also contribute to the broader environmental crisis of ocean plastic pollution. Addressing this issue effectively requires not only preventive measures but also robust systems for the collection and recycling of these harmful wastes.

Recognizing the crucial role that proper disposal services play, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have highlighted the need for accessible collection and reception services at ports.

When disposal services are connected to recycling facilities that can transform waste into economically valuable products, it creates a powerful incentive for the responsible collection and increased recycling rates of nylon fishing nets.

This article aims to guide individuals and organizations across Europe on where to find the largest sources of recyclable nylon fishing nets. By participating in and promoting these recycling efforts, we can collectively work towards cleaner oceans and a more sustainable future.


How to find the Top Sources for Recycling Nylon from Fishing Nets in Europe

To provide the most accurate and useful information on where to find recyclable nylon fishing nets in Europe, we have employed a comprehensive methodology involving several key steps:

  1. Data Extraction: We started by exporting the latest data on the European fishing fleet by type of gear and engine power from Eurostat (2022). This data serves as the foundational layer of our analysis, offering insights into the distribution and operational scale of fishing fleets across Europe.
  2. Gear Type Identification: From the data, we identified the types of fishing gear most likely to contain a high percentage of nylon. This step is crucial as it helps pinpoint specific fishing practices and gear types that are primary contributors to nylon waste in marine environments.
  3. Addressing Data Gaps: Recognizing that data from Eurostat might not cover all aspects of nylon net usage, we sought alternative sources to fill any gaps. This includes engaging with local fishing communities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and industry experts who can provide additional insights or unpublished data.
  4. Comparative Analysis: We conducted a comparative analysis of the data based on engine power, as a proxy indicator for the size of the fishing gear, and the amounts discarded per year. We perform the analysis by country, and among groups of neighboring countries. This analysis helps to understand regional variations and identify hotspots where the concentration of nylon fishing nets is likely to be higher due to the nature of fishing activities.

By following these steps, we aim to provide a detailed and nuanced view of the potential sources for nylon fishing net collection and recycling across Europe. This approach not only enhances the reliability of our recommendations but also ensures that they are actionable and grounded in the latest available data.

Overview of Engine Power and Fleet Population

According to data from Eurostat, Norway emerges as the leading country in Europe in terms of total engine power, accounting for over 20% of the continent’s total. This is noteworthy, especially since Norway is not a member of the European Union. Following Norway, Spain holds the second position with nearly 15% of total engine power, while the UK and France each represent about 8%.

Conversely, when examining the population of boats, the landscape diversifies. Greece and Italy each boast roughly 15% of the total number of boats, with Spain and Portugal following at 10% and 9%, respectively. This variation in fleet size and engine power across countries provides a nuanced perspective on potential sources for nylon net collection.

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Gear Types and Nylon Usage

The Eurostat database categorizes fishing gear into 11 broad types:

  • Surrounding nets,
  • Seines,
  • Trawls,
  • Dredges,
  • Lift nets,
  • Gill nets and entangling nets,
  • Traps,
  • Hooks and lines,
  • Miscellaneous gear,
  • No gear,
  • Gear unknown.

Among those, we identify Surrounding Nets and Seines as particularly relevant to our analysis due to their likelihood of being made from nylon. While other categories like Gill nets and entangling nets may also include nylon, the variability in material composition complicates definitive conclusions.

For the purposes of this study, we consider the total engine power of each fleet as a primary indicator of nylon usage, assuming that the size and usage of nets are proportionate to the power of the boats. This approach helps us estimate which countries potentially use the most nylon in their fishing gear.

Data Gaps and Inclusion of Non-EU Countries

While EU data is comprehensive, the absence of detailed data for non-EU countries like Norway and Iceland presents challenges. Despite this, estimates suggest that 28.5% of Norway’s fleet could be categorized under Surrounding Nets and Seines, closely aligning with Spain’s 32%. For Iceland, we apply an average of 19% based on similar countries.

Implications and Comparative Analysis

If we accept engine power as a reliable proxy for nylon net usage, then Norway, Spain, and France could be responsible for approximately 72% of the nylon nets in Europe. This concentration suggests significant opportunities for targeted recycling initiatives.

Moreover, the disparity in average engine power per boat across countries like France and Italy highlights differing operational scales and potential environmental impacts.

For instance, France’s smaller fleet with larger tonnage per boat suggests fewer, but more heavily equipped vessels, likely operating over greater distances and possibly disposing of nets internationally, as seen with Spanish and French tuna fleets.

Regional Groupings for Recycling Efforts

Considering neighboring regions and potential synergies, grouping countries with similar fleet characteristics could enhance recycling efforts. For example, Mediterranean countries with smaller, more numerous boats might benefit from different strategies compared to the North Sea regions, where larger ships with greater engine power dominate.

This analysis not only aids in identifying key areas for intervention but also informs potential market strategies for recycling enterprises aiming to capitalize on densely concentrated nylon net resources.


Our comprehensive analysis indicates that Norway potentially disposes of the largest quantity of nylon nets in Europe. Combined with its Nordic neighbors, this region could account for over 40% of the market share in nylon net disposal. This significant figure underscores the critical need for focused recycling initiatives in the Nordic region to address and mitigate environmental impacts.

On the other hand, Southern Europe, driven by robust partnerships and diverse fishing practices, emerges as another critical player in the nylon net recycling arena. This region, including could command more than 50% of the market share of the recycled nylon from fishing nets in Europe. This region benefits from a mix of vessel sizes—from large purse seiners operating across three oceans to smaller, medium-sized boats frequenting both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

Spain, in particular, stands out within this block. It uniquely combines extensive operations of large purse seiners with the localized, smaller scale fishing activities, positioning it as a pivotal country for recycling initiatives. Spain’s dual operational scope presents an opportunity to implement comprehensive recycling strategies that cater to both high-volume and community-based recycling needs.

Strategic Recommendations

  1. Targeted Recycling Initiatives: Focus on developing tailored recycling programs in Norway and Spain, leveraging their significant share of the nylon net market. These programs should address the specific types of fishing operations and gear used in these countries to maximize efficiency and impact.
  2. Collaborative Partnerships: Strengthen and expand partnerships in Southern Europe, particularly with stakeholders in Spain and France. Engaging local communities and leveraging existing relationships can enhance the reach and effectiveness of recycling efforts.
  3. Technology and Innovation: Invest in innovative recycling technologies that can handle the diverse types of nylon nets used in different fishing practices. This approach will not only improve recycling rates but also contribute to the sustainability of the fishing industry.
  4. Awareness and Education Campaigns: Implement campaigns to raise awareness about the benefits of nylon net recycling. Educating fishers and the broader community about environmental impacts and the economic benefits of recycling can drive greater participation and support.
  5. Policy Advocacy: Work with European and national policymakers to strengthen regulations and incentives for recycling fishing nets. Advocating for supportive policies can help establish a more robust framework for sustainable fishing practices across Europe.

By focusing on these strategic areas, stakeholders can effectively address the challenges posed by nylon net disposal and make significant strides towards a more sustainable and environmentally responsible fishing industry in Europe.