I recently wrote how my first published article – complaining about the litter left behind on my local canal banks and riversides by anglers – got me into trouble with my boss; a passionate angler.
Jeanne from the blog Still a Dreamer pointed out to me that there is much larger problem with discarded fishing tackle. In the oceans it entangles, traps and ultimately kills marine life, including hundreds of thousands of fish, dolphin, sharks, turtles, even whales.
It even has its own term …
Ghost Fishing is what fishing gear does when it has been lost, dumped or abandoned. Conservation group World Animal Protection estimates that around 640,000 tonnes of fishing equipment is left in the oceans each year – and can stay in the water for up to 600 years. It includes hundreds of kilometers of nets and lines, plus thousands of nets and pots. All of this material continues to catch fish and other animals, who can die a long and painful death.
In addition, much of this material is made of or contains plastics, which only breaks down into “microplastics”, which can enter the food chain, causing risks to any creature that consumes it, including people.
Here is a 5-minute video which explains the problem in a bit more depth:
What is being done?
In 2015 the World Animal Protection established the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) and is working hard to identify fishing gear, recycle nets, recover gear, and instigate better recycling of fishing gear. A key move is to mark fishing gear so that owners can be traced. In 2016, the United Nations’ Committee on Fisheries (COFI) started work on International Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear.
Marking allows gear to be traced back to its source. This enables fishers to retrieve gear they have accidentally lost, dissuades them from deliberately abandoning it, and helps identify fishing activity happening illegally. It is to be hoped that these guidelines can be adopted and implemented internationally to significantly reduce the appalling loss of life through ghost fishing.
What can you or I do?
A starting point for an initiative is to spread the word. Documentary film-maker Christine Ren, for example, is asking to use the hashtag #SilentKillers to spread the word through social media about businesses and initiatives that are helping to turn reclaimed ghost nets into sustainable products. These include:
- The Global Ghost Gear Initiative: information about ghost gear initiatives around the world
- Healthy Seas: supporting net buyback products
- Econyl: processes to regenerate ghost net waste into fabric and textiles
Christine has also produced this short video to bring attention to ghost fishing.