Fisherman catches on to ocean plastic

by | Apr 8, 2022 | Blog, Environment, Ocean Plastics

Fisherman catches on to ocean plastic

Meet commercial rock lobster fisherman Gary Ryan. Gary is in the process of removing plastic from his pots in order to address the issue of fishing marine debris in our oceans.

You may have seen him on the ABC News talking about the ‘Vic Pot’ Project that he is actively involved in (along with five other Victorian commercial fishermen.) The goal? to develop a pot that will increase their catch while reducing plastic in the ocean.

For those of us who are involved in beach clean-ups and are concerned about the amount of plastic in the oceans, Gary’s initiative is very, very welcome news. It is our hope that more commercial and recreational fishermen will take Gary’s lead and consider phasing out plastics in their pots. And furthermore, that the government will provide some financial assistance and incentives for them to do so.

We only have one Southern Ocean, let’s look after it.

Gary Ryan collects a pile of marine debris rubbish from Beach Patrol residence, and is taking it away for disposal. 

The Gary Ryan video was made possible through funding from a Coastcare Victoria community grant (2021/22).

I interviewed commercial fisherman, Gary Ryan at the Port of Warrnambool about his project to ‘switch’ his plastic rock lobster pots to a sustainabe alternative. I also got to appreciate the work involved in commercial rocklobster fishing – early mornings, octopus stealing bait, no catch – by spending a morning on the boat. 

Rock Lobster pot necks washed up on the Belfast Coastal Reserve.

This project came about because I was finding lots of rock lobster fishing gear washed up on the beach, and a very high amount of hard plastic red remnants, which was broken up lobster pot necks. I contacted the Victorian Fisheries Authority to discuss what could be done to reduce the amount of plastic polluting the ocean and beaches from lost fishing gear.

The VFA put me in touch with commercial rock lobster fisherman Gary Ryan to discuss the problem and possible solutions.

At first we were a bit wary of each other – the evil fisherman meets the coo-coo environmental activist – but in the end we both wanted what is best for the ocean and were able to see each others perspective. 

Plastic on beaches.

I have been collecting plastic and rubbish off our shorelines since mid-2017. I am co-leader of a local community action group, Beach Patrol 3280 -3284, dedicated to doing the same. We have collected 450,551 items (and 650,000 Nurdles), a weight of 7.5 tonnes. We sort, count, photograph our clean-ups. Our data is transparent, detailed and extensive. We have identified three main sources or pathways of marine debris washing up on our ocean beaches,

You can view the type of rubbish we collect off our beaches by visiting our Facebook group page. @beachpatrol3280


Or, take a look at our data on BeachPatrol Australia’s website.


A screenshot from Beach Patrol’s facebook group. Plastic from each clean-up is sorted, counted, and documented in photos.

Beach rubbish collected on a walk between Warrnambool and Portland, January 2022.

Fishing-related debris

Fishing-related debris accounts for over 50% in volume of what is collected on our ocean beaches in south west Victoria

Between Sept 2017 – April 2021, we collected 25,096 Commercial fishing & Rock Lobster items (documented in the AMDI)

Two out of five of our most common plastic washing up on our beaches is related to commercial fishing; fishing ropes & nets (19,857 pieces) and hard plastic remnants (190,560 items collected).

30% of the plastic remnants that we collect are red. Approx. 55,000 red hard remnant pieces recorded. These are broken up from red rock lobster necks.


Rock Lobster Fishing pot parts collected off the beach. Pot necks, bait basktets, and plastic cane.

Rock Lobster Fishing Debris 

  • is not deliberately thrown overboard.
  • It is ‘lost’ fishing gear
  • Most Rock Lobster fishermen do what they can to find ‘snagged’ pots such as using a GPS when they’ve lost pots and going back with divers to collect them.
  • Up until five years ago fishermen would take 3 or 4-wheel bikes onto the beach to collect their washed-up fishing gear. Regulations changed and they are no longer able to do this.
  • Retrieved pots can be mended and used again.
  • There is some confusion amongst fishermen what they can or cannot throw off their boat (example cardboard)

Ms Beachtrice Comber was created by Colleen Hughson & Gage B Mee for ‘Waste Not’, an exhibition of plastic marine debris inspired work. The dress was made out of rock lobster fishing pot plastic cane, bait baskets, and necks.

What happens to the plastic we collect?