Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear is known as ‘ghost gear’. It’s the most harmful form of marine debris. Luckily, there are six things municipalities can do to help tackle this form of marine pollution.
Ghost gear is haunting coastal areas all over the world. It is a damaging form of marine litter and plastic pollution, which harms wildlife and can pose a threat to vessels and a hazard to seafarers.
While most of the 4 to 12 million tonnes of plastic waste that makes its way into oceans every year originates on land, waste from the fishing industry is a significant problem.
Because of its nature, lost fishing gear presents a particular threat to wildlife. ‘Ghost fishing’ is when gear continues to trap sea life after having been lost or abandoned at sea.
Ghost gear is occasionally the result of fishermen simply dumping their old equipment overboard. But most of the time it’s the result of an accident, poor planning, or simply bad design. Ghost gear can vary in size from tiny net cuttings to enormous fishing nets.
Unexpected or extreme weather, snags or tears underwater, interactions with marine traffic, and tracking system malfunctions all cause fishing gear to get lost. And fishermen often pay the price – as they have to pay to replace expensive equipment.
Fortunately, a worldwide alliance of governments, businesses, NGOs and other organisations is working to tackle ghost gear, and eliminate this threat from our seas.
The Global Ghost Gear Initiative
KIMO International is just one of more than a hundred members of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative. The ‘GGGI’ is a cross stakeholder alliance. They focus on solving the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear worldwide.
And for municipalities, the GGGI has worked together with Urban Ocean, an initiative of the US NGO Ocean Conservancy, to produce a checklist of six things local governments can do to help prevent this damaging form of pollution.
1. Support port reception facilities
It’s sometimes very expensive to properly discard of end-of-life fishing gear. Local municipalities can provide convenient and affordable options for removal – and ideally recycling.
2. Support debris retrieval programs
The GGGI cite KIMO’s Fishing for Litter scheme as an example of best practice in this area.
By working with fishermen, Fishing for Litter does more than just engage a crucial stakeholder. It also raises awareness about the wider problem of marine litter.
Fishing for Litter schemes are operating in at least eight European countries. The projects in the Netherlands, Scotland and south west England are operated by KIMO Netherlands and Belgium and KIMO UK respectively.
3. Raise awareness
It’s estimated that as much as 70% of the floating microplastic in the ocean could be the result of ghost gear.
The GGGI stress that while it’s important to understand the extent of the problem, it is important to remember that fishers and fishing communities are part of the solution to this global challenge.
4. Promote reporting of ghost gear
To fix a problem, you need to understand it. The more knowledge and data gathered about ghost gear, the more effective steps to tackle it can be.
The app marks reports using GPS coordinates. Users can then upload the information to the world’s biggest ghost gear database.
5. Plan for extreme weather
Climate breakdown means extreme weather events are happening with increasing frequency. Major storms are a big cause of gear loss, so helping fishermen to plan for adverse weather is one way to prevent ghost gear.
Local authorities can help ports to develop emergency plans. Such plans should ensure fishers can retrieve deployed equipment before extreme weather strikes and that sufficient insurance is in place. Ports should also plan to recover any lost of broken gear after a storm.
6. Help repurpose end-of-life gear
Most fishing equipment is made from recyclable material. However, sorting and cleaning plastic that has been in the sea can be a difficult and time consuming process. By setting up facilities, local municipalities can help ensure old gear is recycled.
In Sweden, KIMO member Sotenäs has set up a unique scheme to help recycle marine waste. Their marine recycling centre also provides training to help local people enter the jobs market.
Want to learn more?
The GGGI website is a treasure trove of information for anyone interested in learning more about ghost gear. Their resources page contains best practice guides, summary documents and fact sheets with more information.
KIMO International is a network of local governments, working together for healthy seas, cleaner beaches, and thriving coastal communities. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and sign up for our email updates.