A Phantom Menace: Ghost gear haunting our seas
This month, World Animal Protection is hosting our inaugural meeting of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative in Slovenia.
What is ghost gear?
Ghost gear is a term for lost and abandoned fishing nets and equipment that circles the seas entangling precious marine life.
Made of nylon and plastic, ghost gear takes centuries to break down and can drift in the ocean for many years trapping, injuring and killing marine animals with turtles, seals, whales, sharks and seabirds high in the death toll. We’ve estimated that 136,000 seals and whales are trapped every year.
The problem is massive. Globally, around 640,000 tons of new ghost fishing gear is lost or discarded in our oceans every year. That’s more than the weight of twelve Titanics!
US researchers have estimated that a single ghost net can kill almost $20,000 worth of Dungeness crab over 10 years. 870 nets recovered in the US contained more than 32,000 marine animals. In the U.S., 115 different species are impacted by entanglement.
What causes the ghost gear?
The causes are both accidental as well as deliberate. Severe storms mean gear can be lost overboard or it gets caught up on reefs and rocks on the seafloor.
Sometimes for less expensive gear types, it will be easier and cheaper to throw the gear overboard than taking it and repairing it on shore. Often gear recovery is too difficult.
At other times gear becomes entangled with other fishing nets when fisheries are crowded and poorly managed. There is also the serious problem of illegal fishing.
What is World Animal Protection doing?
World Animal Protection is convening a group of organisations and businesses with the power to help solve this problem worldwide. Called the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, our aim is to achieve worldwide collaboration and cooperation to prevent and recover ghost gear.
The Initiative will include an online data hub for people to record what they find in the oceans and washed up on the beaches, a place for sharing intelligence and finding practical solutions that have worked in other fisheries such net recycling schemes and tagging nets with tracking devices.
The Initiative kicks off on November 13-14 in Slovenia with a roundtable of government, industry, and inter-governmental bodies such as the United National Environment Program (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).