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The competition is part of a long-running environmental program that has cleaned up 20 islands in countries such as Mexico and Colombia.
In search of plastic, instead of fish, eight fishing boats on Saturday set sail from Panama's Pacific coast. Cash prizes would be awarded to the three collecting the biggest hauls. To raise awareness about the impact of marine pollution, the Panama Plastic Fishing Championship brought together local fishermen to travel through the Panama Bay.
"On the banks of the rivers and the sea, there is too much garbage," which often makes it difficult for fishermen to use nets to fish, as they need to spend "more time for this task," said Adonis Jaen, one of the competitors.
Studies indicate that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish if no actions are taken, said Flor de Maria Torrijos, administrator of Panama's aquatic resources authority, noting that between 60 and 80 percent of plastic from human consumption on land ends up in the ocean.
"The intention is that the collection of plastic from the water becomes a sustainable activity for fishermen," said Tatiana Cabal, brand manager of the Corona beer in Panama's National Brewery company, a sponsor of the competition.
Our colleagues in Panama joined the Mayor’s office to clean a beach in Costa del Este, where they found discarded mattresses, refrigerators, clothes, plastic bottles and other waste. They used the event to raise awareness of the damage litter causes to marine life. #MMImpactpic.twitter.com/6JeG78vuzS
Regarding the extra costs of fuel spent in collecting plastic for fishermen, Torrijos said a new government program beginning on Monday will offer fuel subsidies of about US$400 to offset the increased costs.
Jaen, the fisherman, said that collecting plastic from the sea could become a source of income for many, and that the fuel subsidies could be beneficial, but only for owners of smaller boats. The contest is part of a long-running environmental program that has cleaned up 20 islands in countries such as Mexico and Colombia.
"We are talking with the indigenous communities in Guna Yala (an Indigenous province in Panama) in search of being able to replicate the activity in the place where they live," Cabal said.
Tons of plastic collected during this tournament will be compacted by the recycling company Recimental, and the recycled plastic can be used to make products including shirts and bricks for low-cost houses.