Plastic pollution along coasts and beaches is an increasingly significant issue. Lost fishing gear is a concern, as is waste management on board fishing vessels, and trimmings from working with fishing gear contribute to debris in the ocean.
This prompted 21-year-old Maëlisse Audugé to come up with a solution – a wearable pouch called le sacabout.
‘It all started during my studies in Le Guilvinec,’ she said.
‘My class and I took part in a beach clean-up and we assumed that most of the waste came from fishing because we found a lot of trimmings from nets. After that, we had to write a report suggesting a solution to the problem and I came up with the idea of a bag, or pouch, for fishermen, where you can collect pieces of net before recycling them.’
Made out of materials from the fishing and shellfish farming industries as well as plastic, le sacabout is worn around the waist and makes it easier for fishermen to collect net and rope trimmings as they work. This prevents the pieces from accidentally falling to the deck and finding their way into the sea. Maëlisse Audugé has developed two prototypes and sought the advice of fishermen when producing the second.
‘The first prototype took about ten hours to make but the second is still a work in progress,’ she said.
‘It requires some more work and I’ve been learning new skills like sewing nets. Working with the fishermen has really helped me explore different styles and make adjustments.’
Fishermen who have already tested le sacabout have been welcomed with it. Although many were surprised by the approach in the beginning, they now see it as necessary in order to limit pollution. Some, however, are still resistant, Maëlisse Audugé said.
‘Older fishermen are reluctant to change their ways of working they’ve had for years, but the new generation is concerned about the future of their industry and the environment. It’s great when fishermen call me and say that they want to help with the second prototype. That’s a positive sign,’ she said.
Maëlisse Audugé grew up in New Caledonia and spent her childhood on the Pacific Ocean in sailing boats before heading to France to study at a maritime college. Having finished her studies in July last year, she is concentrating solely on developing le sacabout. While in New Caledonia, she witnessed significant coral bleaching, a decrease in the number of fish in the ocean, the reduction of beach sizes due to rising sea levels and waste brought in by the currents. Her studies in France then enabled her to learn more about the country’s fishing industry. Thanks to an introduction by a professor at her maritime college, she worked on trawlers in the Mediterranean and later off Brittany.
‘The environmental changes I saw in New Caledonia made me really interested in protecting the marine environment,’ she said.
‘Meanwhile, being at one of France’s leading artisanal fishing harbours in Brittany was the perfect opportunity to learn about the French fishing industry. Working on the trawlers was very hard and complicated because as a woman, I had to prove myself a lot. But I liked it. It was such a good chance to communicate with the fishermen and in Brittany the industry is strong.’
She believes that offering courses in maritime schools is key to deepening people’s understanding of debris from fishing gear and how to reduce it. She has also found that younger people in France are increasingly interested in the environment, sustainability and protecting the ocean, and gave a host of talks at maritime meet-ups and university conferences prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. She hopes that when things return to normal, this can continue.
Maëlisse Audugé feels that fishermen have a key role to play.
‘Fishermen are very aware that pollution affects the development of their industry and at the same time it’s easy for them to let cuttings from nets or ropes fall on the ground as they think they can always pick them up later. But not if the sea is rough and the cuttings are washed away,’ she explained.
‘That’s where le sacabout can help, but fishermen can also adopt the right practices on board, pay attention and just be aware of the need to keep the cuttings and reduce debris. I think marine protection really is a question of education. Small actions and changes count, and are possible to achieve.’
With the second prototype of le sacabout getting underway, Maëlisse Audugé hopes to start producing it in earnest this July before selling it to fishermen in France.