Fishermen across Cornwall and Devon have landed over 40 tonnes of litter through the pioneering Fishing For Litter project, with over 130 fishing vessels pulling in tonnes of marine litter in their fishing gear, and bringing it ashore.

The project provides vessels with large durable bags to collect marine litter. When full, these bags are deposited safely on the quayside.

Items commonly landed include pieces of plastic and polythene, rope and cord, nets, bottles, rubber, metals and textiles. If not recovered, these items could eventually end up destroying ecosystems or littering the region’s beaches and shoreline,

Millions of marine mammals, birds, turtles and fish die as a result of entanglement or ingestion of deliberately or accidentally discarded debris.

Fishing for Litter has been operational since March 2009, starting in Newlyn and steadily growing across South West ports to Brixham, Plymouth, Newquay, and Looe. A further four Cornish ports have just joined the project: St Ives, Mevagissey, Hayle and Padstow.

Alison Elvey de Rios, from the project said: “It’s great that this innovative, simply executed project, has landed over 50 tonnes of marine litter. The project’s momentum is growing year on year, and more fishermen are getting involved to help clean our seas.”

A Duchy of Cornwall spokesperson said: “We are delighted to see Fishing for Litter in Devon and Cornwall passing its 50 tonnes milestone – removing a significant volume of harmful waste from the seas around our coasts – and we praise the work of these fishermen, who are committed to preserving and enhancing the marine environment”.

Dave Owens, from environment and waste management at Cornwall Council added: “Cornwall Council has supported this programme from day one and it’s very rewarding to be part of this scheme, it’s great to see that the project is going from strength to strength. The aim to add more ports and fishing vessels to the projects network will significantly increase the amount of marine and coastal litter removed from the seas.”

Fishing for Litter Southwest is also supported and funded by The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Cornwall Council, The Cornish Fish Producers’ Organisation, Duchy of Cornwall, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Devon County Council and The Crown Estate, through the organisation’s Marine Stewardship Fund.

In addition, this voluntary project also helps fishermen themselves as a recent KIMO study, by Hannah Bateson, on the Economic impacts of Marine Litter, showed the average yearly cost of marine litter to a fishing boat is £10,000, through contamination of catches, broken gear and fouled propellers.

Fishing for Litter forms part of the Fishing for Litter network run by KIMO, an international organisation of local authorities working to tackle marine pollution and environmental issues.