Question: What is 'ghost gear'?
The term 'ghost gear' refers to any fishing gear that has been abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded (for example nets, line, rope, traps, pots, and floats). Other common terms include abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear or ‘ALDFG’ and derelict fishing gear or ‘DFG’.
Question: What is ghost fishing?
Ghost fishing is a process by which abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear continues to catch fish and other animals. Ghost fishing is indiscriminate and impacts all marine animals from commercial fish stocks to marine megafauna such as whales, turtles and seabirds. Studies show that some types of plastic ghost gear persist in the marine environment for up to 600 years, continuing to catch and kill marine life before eventually breaking down into microplastics and ending up in the food chain. These tiny plastic granules are found in water and sediments and may have a toxic effect on the food chain that scientists are only beginning to understand. The cumulative long-term effects of ghost fishing gear are likely to be extremely damaging to marine flora and fauna, as well as to the people and industries who depend on safe and healthy seas.
When an animal is caught in ghost gear and dies, it starts to decay, which attracts other marine life to feed on it. These predators or scavengers can then get caught themselves, resulting in a deadly cycle that can last for dozens or even hundreds of years.
Question: What are the impacts of ghost gear?
There is a growing body of evidence to show that ghost fishing gear poses serious impacts to the health of marine life and ocean ecosystems more broadly. It is estimated that between 5% - 30% of harvestable fish stocks are impacted by ghost gear across the world, posing a major threat to human health and livelihoods as well as to global food security.
Ghost fishing gear can cause large-scale damage to marine ecosystems through habitat disturbance and causes direct harm to the welfare and conservation of marine animals via entanglement and/or ingestion.
Ghost gear also acts as a source of, and vehicle for, persistent toxic chemical pollution in the ocean. It threatens human life and health, particularly divers and those trying to navigate the oceans in both small and large vessels. Ghost gear also poses economic impacts, compromising yields and income in fisheries, and costing many millions of dollars annually to clean up.
Question: What are the causes of ghost gear?
Ghost gear has many causes, but the primary ones are snags on rocks, reefs or spires beneath the surface of the water; conflict / entanglement with other deployed fishing gear; severe weather where gear must be abandoned for safety reasons; and gear being cut loose incidentally by other marine traffic crossing over top of it.
Intentional discard by fishers is comparatively rare, as fishing gear is expensive, and no fisher ever wants to lose their gear. It’s important to remember that fishers are not villains in this story! The vast majority of fishers are stewards of the oceans and its resources, and we actively work with fishers and the fishing industry to incorporate lasting solutions to this problem across the world and across the fishing supply chain.
Intentional discard, when it does happen, is far more likely to occur with A) illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing, as vessels may cut their gear loose to avoid being caught by authorities or B) in some developing areas of the world where no end of life options exist for fishers to dispose of their gear.
GGGI is working in numerous areas of the world to provide viable options for end of life gear, including trialing gear recovery and recycling projects to ensure that as much gear as possible is prevented from entering the world’s oceans and that communities in all areas of the world have viable solutions for their end of life gear.
Question: How much ghost gear is out there in the world’s oceans?
Ghost gear is something that has been identified as a critical issue facing the world’s oceans, but it is still not sufficiently well understood. In 2009, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that at least 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear was lost or abandoned in the world’s oceans every year, making up approximately 10% of all marine litter when measured by weight.
However, recent studies from 2017 and 2018 have suggested that ghost gear could make up as much 46% – 70% of all macro plastic in our oceans when measured by weight, which is a significant increase as more data is gathered on this problem. More research needs to be done to come up with a universally accepted number, but we can say with relative certainty that more than 640,000 tonnes per year enters the world’s oceans every year.