#Fishing #Oceans #Plastics

Stop Ghost Fishing Gear

Ghost fishing gear is wreaking havoc on our oceans. Discarded nets, ropes and other fishing waste makes up 10% of the total plastic pollution in…

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What is ghost fishing gear? And why is it such a big problem for our oceans?

Ghost fishing gear refers to ropes, nets, and other fishing waste that’s lost or discarded at sea. It’s one of the largest sources of plastic pollution in the ocean (10%).

It’s particularly deadly because this stuff was designed to kill – that’s simply the job it was made for. But when it’s left in the ocean, it continues to ensnare, maim and drown marine life for decades after being separated from its original owner.

As it floats on the waves, ghost gear is indiscriminate in what it catches. Precious marine species like dolphins and whales, turtles and sea lions, are caught in its tendrils, despite not being the original target.

Sea lion, with nylon strings and piece of fishing net wrapped around his neck that caused him a deep wound.

The results are hard to look at. Dolphins drowned, tangled in drift nets. Sea lions strangled by fishing line, whales starved to death.

This is happening on a global scale. From the Pacific Ocean to the North Sea, there are horror stories to be told of ghost fishing.

Just last month, a pregnant minke whale was found dead on a Scottish beach, tangled in a ghost fishing net that had become caught in its feeding system. In another instance, 300 turtles were found dead in a single ghost net off the coast of Mexico. An entire generation, wiped out through carelessness.

Dead Bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, entangled on nylon ropes and lost fishing net. Nylon cables and nets lost or dumped at sea pose a deadly threat to marine life.

What can New Zealanders do about ghost fishing gear?

The solution to ghost fishing is going to take both local and global action. Our oceans need protection, and more places off limits from fishing. This will benefit fish populations, and limit pollution. But we also need action on the domestic front too.

New Zealand is a country that fishes in international waters, in places that some nations cannot reach. With this in mind we have a responsibility to make sure those fishing fleets aren’t offloading their trash into the global commons, to be washed up on beaches or maim ocean life.

In July, researchers found fishing gear from New Zealand commercial fisheries on a remote Pacific Island, 5,000 kilometres away. On this island, a large proportion of the plastic items found were from commercial fisheries, including nets and buoys, buckets and ropes. Some of these were still stamped with Talley’s or Sanford logos.

A Sea turtle is entangled in fishing gear. Greenpeace activists onboard the Rainbow Warrior found the turtle in the Mediterranean Sea north of Libya, and freed it.

But despite fishing waste being such a large source of marine pollution, it’s currently not being considered by our Government in the same way other problematic plastics are. While plans are afoot to tackle other single-use items through the Waste Management Act, fishing gear has been left out of the loop.

We want this to change, and for commercial fishing companies to be held to account for their role in the plastics crisis.

As individuals, many of us have changed our habits to live as plastic-free a life as possible, avoiding the plastic bag, bidding goodbye to the bottle, shunning the straw; but our efforts will pale in comparison if industry doesn’t do its bit.

Dead Sperm whales thought to have been killed by illegal Italian driftnets in the waters near Mallorca.

As with a lot of the damage being inflicted on our oceans, much of it is unseen. The images included here paint a stark picture of ghost fishing’s impact on creatures like dolphins and turtles, but there’s another side to the story, hidden in the depths.

Research shows that underwater mountains – seamounts – are disproportionately littered with ghost fishing gear. One study found that fishing gear made up 84% of debris found on seamounts in the Indian Ocean, for instance.

This matters because seamounts are vital habitats. They serve as nurseries and shelters for juvenile fish, and are often home to unique and delicate life like corals and sponges. They serve the marine web of life, and after being damaged by fishing methods like trawling, the last thing they need is to be suffocated by discarded gear.

Life on seamounts

Wave surge constantly sweeping through beds of seaweed where a Tristan Rock Lobster (Jasus tristani) clings to an underwater peak of Vema, circled by shoals of Yellowtail Amberjacks. These lobsters were almost fished to extinction on Mount Vema seamount

Trawl nets, lines and heavy trawl doors have been found on seamounts in the North West Hawaiian Islands, and closer to home to the situation’s no better.  New Zealand’s Graveyard seamount, on the Chatham Rise to the east of the South Island, was named as such because it’s covered in ghost fishing gear. The legacy the fishing industry leaves behind.

The good news is that solutions to this problem are available.  With the launch of this Ghost Fishing report, we’re calling on  the New Zealand Government to include fishing gear into plans to tackle the plastics crisis, so no one gets off the hook. We have also been campaigning for a Global Ocean Treaty, so that parts of the High Seas can be set off limits to fishing.

Healthy oceans are vital for all life on Earth. It’s high time we treated them as though they mattered.

Download the new Greenpeace Ghost Gear report here.