Putting ghost gear on the global agenda in 2018

In 2018, the groundswell of interest in our ocean’s health, and plastic pollution in particular, showed that now more than ever people and decision-makers understand the severity of the problems our oceans face and the urgent action required to turn the tide. Ghost gear made headlines more than once as the most harmful form of marine debris and put the Global Ghost Gear Initiative at the heart of the solution.

New research released this year has also amplified this urgency, confirming that the ghost gear problem is far-reaching with estimates that 46-70% of surface debris in certain areas in the ocean is fishing gear.

Over the last year, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative has seen an enormous influx of members wanting to become part of our alliance bringing our membership close to 100; more desire than ever from Governments and corporates to invest in scaling up and replicating solutions; and United Nations bodies wanting to support training and awareness raising to prevent more gear from being lost.

At a global level, large corporations are working through specific action plans to tackle ghost gear in supply chains, while countries such as the Netherlands and Indonesia are collaborating on implementing gear marking guidelines. These guidelines were adopted in July 2018 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation Committee of Fisheries (UN FAO COFI) Meeting after an expert and a technical consultation in which the GGGI had an important voice. Furthermore, at policy level, we saw the European Union adopt stronger policies on single-use plastics and fishing gear with ambitious targets of wanting to see up to 50% of fishing nets to be collected and 15% to be recycled by 2025.

The GGGI’s focus has always been on building evidence on the issue, on promoting best practice management of gear, and on scaling up and replicating successful projects. In 2018, we started working with the Vanuatu Fisheries Department with support from the Belgian Government to track and mark anchored FADs. We also conducted a workshop in Panama on best practise protocols to retrieve ghost gear together with World Animal Protection, Conservation International, Aquatic Resources Authority of Panama (ARAP), NOAA Marine Debris Program, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and Natural Resources Consultants. We worked together with NetYourProblem and PlastiX Global to recycle close to 71 metric tonnes of end of life fishing gear from Alaska, and retrieved a huge ball of ghost gear in the Gulf of Maine together with Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation (GOMLF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). We also worked with Satlink, World Animal Protection and Bureo to expand Bureo’s Net+Positiva program to additional areas in Chile, which will see 100 tonnes of end of life fishing nets recycled. And this is just a quick snapshot of the huge amount of work and dedication the GGGI and its participants have shown in 2018 to tackle the problem of ghost gear.

The narrative has really changed from having to raise awareness about the problem to highlighting how people can be part of the solution. We took the stage at the Our Ocean conference in Bali to promise that we will continue to bring people around the table to build on our foundations, evidence, science and real-life on-the-ground experience to formulate tangible and well-rounded solutions.

2018 was the last year that World Animal Protection was at the helm of the GGGI. In 2019, we welcome Ocean Conservancy (OC) as the new lead partner of the GGGI steering us into the future!

We have achieved a lot over the last year, but more is needed to ensure cleaner, healthier and safer oceans for all. We are excited to see this momentum grow together with each one of you to really built towards a net reduction of fishing gear in our oceans by 2025. To celebrate the achievements we have made to date, we have prepared the video below - please share widely! Thank you so much for all your hard work and dedication – together we can make a difference!

Joel Baziuk