Open Discussion: Fishing for Litter

On the occasion of the premiere of the documentary Fishing for Litter by Sotiris Danezis, a discussion on marine pollution and the role of fishing took place on Sunday, March 5th at the Green Room. The speakers at the event were the executive director of the Athanasios K. Laskaridis Foundation, Dr. Angeliki Kosmopoulou, iSea's program manager, Roxani Naasan Aga-Spyridopoulou, Dimitris Sakatis (fisherman) and Sotiris Danezis.

Mr Danezis initially thanked the Festival and stated: "I am not good at public speaking, so Angeliki will talk to you about the goal of the Fishing for Litter program, Roxani about its general coordination and Dimitris about how he experiences the program."

According to Ms. Kosmopoulou, "Within the framework of the Athanasios K. Laskaridis Foundation we are heavily involved in the marine environment and its protection. We provide assistance with various actions. We can help with various actions. We also collaborate with specialized teams that can promote this cause. The Fishing for Litter program was launched four years ago with the aim of informing fishermen - the people who need the sea in their daily lives and live off it - about how they can become part of the solution. The main objectives of the project are to raise awareness of the fishing industry and change its litter management practices, to remove marine debris in general, and to collect data on seabed pollution at depths not easily accessible by other means. The data collected contributes to the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC). This film helps us talk about the most invisible part of marine pollution. Through the very beautiful images of Sotiris and this program, the issue is highlighted as much as possible."

Afterwards, Ms Naasan Aga-Spyridopoulou spoke about the data collected through the program. "iSea undertook the implementation of the project in 2019 starting in Nea Michaniona, Thessaloniki with two fishing vessels and in Kavala with four. We now have forty vessels, covering the entire Aegean Sea. Specifically, starting from Crete and going to Kalymnos, Samos, Patmos, Chios, Thasos, Thessaloniki and the Sporades, among others, we collect data and record them at the same time. The program processes data for depths greater than fifty meters and the fishermen involved have so far given us information on over 6,000 fishing trips. Because the industry itself is part of the problem, fishermen are becoming more aware and changing their own practices. Initially, the fishermen harbored distrust towards the initiative, as they felt that their love for the environment and efforts in picking up litter were already sufficient. Furthermore, there was a concern that their association with the initiative could result in them being viewed as polluters. But there were also people like Dimitris who understood how important it was to collect this data."

As Dimitris Sakatis explained "In 2000 we were lacking the necessary knowledge and we were dumping the rubbish back into the sea. This is no longer the case. If we throw the rubbish into the sea, it is inevitable that we will find it in front of us again. Nonetheless, there is a lot of new garbage. A lot of plastic. The places where we don't fish are where the highest amount of debris tends to accumulate, similar to how rubbish tends to accumulate in the corners of an apartment building. I am very concerned about this because these plastics are highly susceptible to breaking down and being consumed by fish. It's worth noting that all 250 windmills in Greece are keen to participate in this program. The fishing industry is tight - knit. When Roxani arrived on the first day, we were all wondering what she was doing here. But trust was built up gradually. We need information and training from scratch. The Foundation and Roxani have achieved that."

According to Ms Kosmopoulou: "People are averse to changing their habits. Especially, when that change is not accompanied by some form of obligation. Many stand in our way, from fishermen to ministers. When we started the program, we did it with our own resources and funding. We had help from iSea that could speak the same language as the fishermen and we were happy to see that progress could be made. The problem that remains is how the program can be implemented at national level, getting all the fishermen to join in. It is difficult to find additional funding. We give very little support to the people who are in the program and that's because we take up time from their work. However, money alone would not provide enough motivation."

On the use of expanded polystyrene (also known as styrofoam), which is very harmful to the environment, Sakatis said: "The government is not changing the program. The employer who produces styrofoam is preventing the state from altering its practices. In other countries, there are reusable plastic crates that can be washed and used again. In our country, these crates are stored in warehouses in our fish farms, but we do not use them because it would have other consequences. I remove 150 pieces of styrofoam a day. Styrofoam from Turkey also ends up in the Greek seas. In the past, the crates were made of wood and we stopped using them in favor of styrofoam.” Roxani Naasan Aga-Spyridopoulou added "The European Union has given guidelines on this, as with plastic. However, the connecting link that will pave the way for change is missing". In the same tone, Dr. Angeliki Kosmopoulou stressed that "Styrofoam has been abolished by the Single-Use Plastics Directive, but in our country, there is a long-standing problem with the implementation of the law. There is no control".

When asked by Sotiris Danezis about whether plastic passes through food to us, Naasan Aga-Spyridopoulou answered: "It sounds dystopian, but very small pieces of plastic have now been found in embryos, in our bodies and in our blood. It is a reality whose effects we will not see for a long time". The audience then wondered where the greatest pollution could be found and she said the following. "From our samples across the Aegean we are detecting that the bays have higher concentrations of litter, which consist mostly of everyday items such as bottles and bags. After each summer we find large quantities of umbrellas and floaties. In Thermaikos, for example, we find nets for mussel-farming. There are changes from region to region.”

In response to Mr. Danezis’ inquiry about the possibility of living without plastic and the feeling of futility in trying to “dry the ocean with a… paper towel”, Ms. Angeliki Kosmopoulou explained: "While the problem will not be resolved during our lifetime, that does not mean that we will not take action. It is important not to pollute the environment and to do what we can. For example, we can pick up litter from beaches. And the most important thing for our work is that now many people follow us because we have paved the way. Collective and individual responsibility is very important”.

Ms Naasan Aga-Spyridopoulou agreed. "Obviously the paper towel in the ocean is not the ideal solution. For a problem that is rooted in many areas of life there are several solutions. Picking up litter is important, because it is a problem that will constantly be perpetuated. We need to change our lifestyles and the footprint we each have locally and collectively. The facts are grim, but the more you know, the better. More and more people want to contribute to our work." Dimitris Sakatis emphasized that he sees changes in the fishing industry. "I would like us to do even more. To fish, to clean up and to continue doing a good job. It all starts with knowledge and we wish for a better tomorrow with a cleaner sea."

The discussion was concluded by Mr Danezis. "I remember my first appearance at the Festival with War Zone. During that time, I watched a film called Manufactured Landscape which I highly recommend. It is a shocking documentary about how much humans are altering nature through their intervention. Today, many years later, we're having a conversation that wouldn't have happened then. So let's not stop having these types of conversations, let's not throw our napkins into the ocean, and let's realize that the problem isn't someone else's. Let’s become part of a reality that we all experience from our own perspective. The Festival's contribution by including such films in its program is exceptional and we are thankful to be a part of it."