Ghost gear still plaguing ocean wildlife, but big business is making improvements


The second edition of our Ghosts Beneath the Waves report shows which fishing companies are moving to protect marine animals – and why others must act now

Despite good progress over the last year, the report shows there is much more work to be done to tackle the ghost gear menace

Ghost gear

Ghost gear is lost, discarded or abandoned fishing gear – and it’s a deadly threat to whales, dolphins, seals, turtles and fish. It traps, mutilates and kills millions of marine animals each year including, whales dolphins and turtles. It’s in every sea, ocean and waterway where people fish commercially and recreationally. 

Ghost beneath the waves: 2nd edition report

Our new report found that of the world’s 25 leading seafood companies, some are making good progress in stopping their lost fishing gear from killing millions of uncollected fish, as well as large numbers of marine animals, every year.

Read the report here.

We ranked the companies in tiers 1 (best) to 5 (worst) on their performance on tackling the problem of ghost gear. No companies have achieved Tier 1 status. However, Thai Union, Tri Marine and Bolton Group entered Tier 2 for the first time and have now made ghost gear best practice integral to their business strategy.

The average score for the 15 companies covered in both the 2018 and 2019 assessments has increased from 23% to 30%, with seven companies moving up one or more tiers.

Ingrid Giskes, our global head of campaign – Sea Change, said: “Over the last year the seafood industry has really stepped up to tackle ghost gear and is now taking its responsibilities much more seriously. Companies, governments and other stakeholders have acknowledged ghost gear is a major problem that requires dedicated action.”

Room for improvement

Despite good progress over the last year, the report shows there is much more work to be done to tackle the ghost gear menace

  • The average score landed in the middle of tier 4
  • Only nine of the 25 companies currently acknowledge ghost gear as an issue
  • Only two publicly report on how they take action on ghost gear

Whale caught in ghost gear

The impact on animals

  • Over 136,000 whales, dolphins, seals and turtles are caught in ghost gear every year
  • Up to 30% of the decline in some fish stocks can be attributed to ghost gear
  • Lost gear is four times more likely to trap and kill marine animals than all other forms of marine debris combined
  • More than 70% of macroplastics (larger plastic pieces) in the ocean are fishing related
  • It can take up to 600 years to break down

The Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI)

We founded the GGGI in 2015 as an alliance dedicated to tackling the problem of ghost fishing gear at a global scale. This diverse initiative boasts NGOs, governments, and companies as members. The GGGI developed the Best Practice Framework for the Management of Fishing Gear which is the first in the world to recommend practical solutions and approaches to combat ghost fishing across the entire seafood supply chain, from gear manufacturers to seafood companies. The recommendations are now being adopted by GGGI members, including Thai Union and Bolton Group. This year, we’re transitioning the role of GGGI lead partner to Ocean Conservancy, a US-based marine conservation organisation.

Our report clearly shows that companies who join the GGGI are much better at tackling the issue of ghost gear and protecting our oceans.

“The GGGI welcomed 40 new members in the past year, including Canada, which became the 13th country to sign-on,” said Lynn Kavanagh, Campaign Manager for World Animal Protection.

“There is no doubt the GGGI is becoming the foremost globally-recognized platform for addressing ghost gear,” continued Kavanagh. “Our latest report shows that those who join the GGGI are better at dealing with ghost gear in their supply chains. By doing so, they acknowledge it as a sustainability issue and this signals a commitment to take actions to handle the problem. Seafood companies play a role in the creation of ghost gear and should be a part of the solution.”

It’s time for a sea change

We are all responsible for the health of our oceans and the marine life within them.

Find out more about our Sea Change campaign, and how you can help protect marine animals.

Hero image: Pascal Kobeh / Nature Picture Library