Mounting ghost gear problem threatens marine life

A new report from an international animal protection entity based in London says the ghost gear problem is getting worse, with marine animals suffering from entanglement or ingestion of the lost gear.

According to the “Ghosts beneath the waves,” the report from World Animal Protection, 80 percent of the world’s largest seafood companies do not have an effective way of dealing with abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear.

At least 640,000 tons of ghost gear are added to oceans every year, killing and mutilating missions of marine animals, including endangered whales. Swallowing plastic remnants from ghost gear has led to malnutrition, digestive blockages, poor health and death, the report said.

Almost 5,000 derelict nets removed from Puget Sound through retrieval programs were entangling over 3.5 million marine animals annually, including 1,300 marine mammals, 25,000 birds and 100,000 fish, the report said.

The report estimates that 20 percent of the wild fish harvest internationally is illegal, unreported and unregulated, but that because such practices are highly profitable, companies involved do everything they can to avoid detection or capture, including abandoning gear. These companies are also less likely to report gear lost through adverse conditions and are unlikely to be using marked gear, the report said.

The report acknowledges numerous projects that are reducing the impact of ghost gear, including some in Alaska and Maine, and says investment in ghost gear solution projects will ultimately create a healthier marine environment that benefits the larger fishing industry, supports communities and protects marine life.

The report concluded that while some companies are showing an effort to address ghost gear, none or deeply invested in a solution, and the majority have yet to step up to the plate to any degree. Among those listed as showing no evidence of dealing with abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear is Cooke Seafood, based in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick, Canada, which has had farming operations in Washington State, as well as Maine, Chile, Scotland and Spain

The complete report is online at https://d31j74p4lpxrfp.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/int_files/ghosts_beneath_the_waves.pdf