Fishing gear that has been lost is becoming more common than ever

Our oceans and sea creatures are in grave danger. New research shows that urgent action is required to reverse the tide.

Laurent Lebreton (oceanographer, Ocean Cleanup Foundation) has released a new report that shows the scale of the problem.

The “Great north Pacific garbage patch” is approximately 4-16 times larger than previously estimated and covers an area twice as large as France. It is estimated to contain 1.8 trillion pieces, with most of it in large chunks.

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Garbage patch ghost gear

Nearly half the weight of the surface debris in the “garbage patch” is made up by abandoned and lost fishing gear, also known as “ghost gear”.

Fishing gear has been made of durable materials since the 1960s. Most notably, plastic. This material can be used to entangle marine animals for as long as 600 years. These eventually turn into microplastics that could end up in our food chains.

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There is so much to learn

The ghost gear problem has been poorly understood until recently. According to a 2009 UN Environment Programme (UNEP), 640,000 tonnes of fishing equipment are lost each year in the oceans. Recent research shows that this number may be much higher.

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Ghost gear’s impact on animals is just as shocking.

Ghosts under the waves: A recent report by our team highlights that approximately 136,000 dolphins, whales, sea lions and turtles become entangled in ghost equipment every year. Meanwhile, countless fish, birds, and crustaceans are killed and caught.

Ghost gear is involved in 71% of marine animal entanglements. 45% of all marine mammals on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species have been impacted.

Fishing gear was designed to capture and kill marine mammals. It continues this function even when it is lost at sea for extended periods.

Although no fisherman wants to lose their gear, it is possible.

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Industry takes action

The Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), which we founded in 2015, aims to bring together all sectors relevant, including the fishing industry, to tackle the problem on a global scale.

The alliance now has 68 member organisations. It is supported by 12 countries, as well organisations like the European Union Directorate-General of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Not only is it urgent to act, but the tide is turning. The problem is becoming more well-documented, and the fishing industry is now taking responsibility for its actions. Thai Union, one of the largest seafood companies in the world, joined the GGGI in March 2018 to fight marine plastic pollution.

The GGGI – with all its expertise – is testing, scaling up, and replicating solutions. It focuses on the three Rs: Reduce, Recycle, and Remove – in order to prevent any more gear from entering our oceans and to clean up existing waste.

A number of industry players are already following the GGGI’s guidelines on best fishing management practices, including Sainsbury’s Seafood and Young’s Seafood in Britain, Austral Fisheries, and Northern Prawn Fisheries in Australia.

Annie Jarrett is the CEO of NPF. She stated that Northern Prawn Fisheries was an active member of the GGGI, and also because they recognize the importance of fishing companies playing their part in addressing ghost gear. (…) Fishing companies are also at risk from abandoned and lost fishing gear. We must all do our part to combat it.

Sea Change can only be achieved if everyone works together at all levels. We can only fight these ghosts under the waves by working together locally, regionally and globally.