640,000 tonnes of fishing equipment is left in our oceans each year.
Ghostly 600-Year-Old Predators Killing Whales, Dolphins, Seals and Turtles Every Year
(UNITED KINGDOM, 5/31/2017)
Every year more than one hundred thousand whales, dolphins, seals and turtles are caught in ‘ghost gear’ – abandoned, lost and discarded fishing nets, lines and traps which can take up to 600 years to decompose. The vast majority of this gear is made of plastics that take centuries to degrade. Animals caught in this incredibly durable fishing gear then suffer a prolonged and painful death, usually suffocating or starving to death over a number of months.
A staggering 640,000 tonnes of fishing equipment is left in our oceans each year – the equivalent of 52,000 London double decker buses. Devastating reports show that over 817 species of marine life are affected by this marine litter. Some nets lost in the oceans are enormous – far bigger than football pitches – trapping and killing marine life under the surface.
Ghost gear refers to any fishing equipment or fishing-related litter that has been abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded; also referred to as ‘derelict fishing gear’ and/or ‘fishing litter’.
This ghost gear eventually breaks down into microplastics and can enter the human body through the fish we consume. More than a quarter of fish sold at markets in Indonesia and California now contain plastic from different sources most likely also including ghost gear.
The level of ghost gear has increased in recent years and is likely to grow further as fishing efforts intensify, creating wide-ranging problems for the marine environment and costing governments millions of dollars in clean-up expenses.
An Olive Ridley turtle entangled in abandoned, lost and discarded fishing nets (ghost nets). Since 2013, 136 injured sea turtles (including 125 Olive Ridley turtles) have been recorded in the Maldives. Most of these injuries have been casued by entanglement in ghost nets coming from the Indian Ocean. Entanglements often lead to death or injuries so severe that rehabilitated turtles are unlikely to reproduce or survive if released back into wild.
As industry and political leaders gather at two key international summits in early June (UN Ocean Conference, June 5-9 and SeaWeb Seafood Summit, June 5-7), World Animal Protection is calling on governments and industry to recognise the urgent need to rid our oceans of ghost gear death traps and join the Global Ghost Gear Initiative.
A solution to the war on marine waste
Ingrid Giskes, Head of World Animal Protection’s Sea Change campaign, said: “Effective solutions are being found locally and nationally, yet a global approach is needed for the problem of ghost gear to be monitored and solved at scale. Governments and industry are part of this solution.
Abandoned, lost and discarded nets, lines and traps known as ‘ghost gear’ are one of the biggest threats to our sea life.
“Our Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) has more than 80 industry participants who are driving innovative solutions from removing gear from our oceans to converting recycled nets to skateboards and swimwear. What we’d like to see is the GGGI taken to the next level by governments and industry – a sustainable global network of members committed to real change globally and practical solutions at scale.”
Ms Giskes said the GGGI also presented a way for governments to deliver UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 targets to reduce marine litter: “We hope as many industry and government representatives as possible will join our effort to eliminate ghost gear and create safer, cleaner oceans. It’s bringing together partners to stop fishing gear being lost and abandoned, supporting new ways to prevent gear from being lost in the first place and promoting best practice when removing ghost gear from the seas, helping protect marine animals from harm and safeguarding human health and livelihoods.
“Our alliance already includes representatives from the fishing industry, the private sector, academia, governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations. Every participant has a critical role to play to mitigate ghost gear locally, regionally and globally. That’s also a lot of expertise and passion to draw from.
A staggering 640,000 tonnes of gear is left in our oceans each year - trapping, injuring, mutilating and killing hundreds of thousands of whales, seals, turtles and birds annually.
“What we’d like to see is retail companies, fast food restaurants and fishing industries coming on-board, along with governments. While a fast food restaurant doesn't seem like an obvious target, when you take into consideration restaurants' iconic fish meals and burgers, many chains have a strong link to fishing and the capacity to help reduce marine litter. A full list of current supporters can be seen on the World Animal Protection website."
The growing volume of ghost gear and lack of a global solution also puts a strain on the livelihoods of coastal communities and productivity of the fishing industry.
The threat of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing
Research has revealed a correlation between illegal fishing activity and ghost gear. It has been suggested that when fishing activities are illegal, enforcement pressure leads fishermen to sometimes abandon their fishing gear to evade capture by authorities or to avoid being denied entry to port.
Hotspot areas for IUU fishing can lead to a greater prevalence of ghost gear, which has led to key organisations including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), to formally acknowledge the link between ghost gear and this illegal activity.
To protect marine life the World animal Protection has founded the Global Ghost Gear Initiative - a multi-stakeholder alliance to drive economically viable and sustainable solutions to the problem of ghost fishing gear.
Ms Giskes said: “Our oceans are vast. One of the biggest challenges we face is getting an accurate global picture of where ghost gear is lost, hotspot areas and trends where we can target our efforts. However, more importantly we need to prevent further gear from getting there in the first place. That’s why we are also urging governments to address IUU fishing as an additional measure to tackle the problem of ghost gear, ensuring natural resources are conserved and guaranteeing the future of the industry.”
Launching in September 2015 and founded on the best available science and technology, the GGGI is the first initiative dedicated to tackling the problem of ghost fishing gear at a global scale.
About World Animal Protection
World Animal Protection is a global animal welfare organisation, working closely with businesses, local communities, governments and the public to protect animals affected by disasters, animals in communities, animals in the wild and animals in farming. Through our Sea Change campaign we’re aiming to save one million animals by 2018. The Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) was established by World Animal Protection as a cross-sectoral alliance committed to driving solutions to the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear worldwide. The GGGI aims to improve the health of marine ecosystems, protect marine animals, and safeguard human health and livelihoods.