Northern Prawn Fishery - Cleaning Up Ghost Nets
The Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Australia has been identified as a global hotspot for ghost nets, with over 2,400 tonnes drifting from Southeast Asia into Australian waters each year. This is higher than any other area in Oceania and Southeast Asia. These nets vary in size from a football to a Mack truck (6 tonnes or 6 kilometres long). Sea turtles make up 80% of the marine life found entangled in these nets and many of these are dead or dying. In the last 10 years GhostNets Australia, working with Indigenous rangers, have removed more than 300 entangled turtles from 13,000 ghost nets. Recent estimates suggest this is just the tip of the iceberg. The estimated number of turtles caught by a sample of 8690 ghost nets was between 4,866 and 14,600 turtles, assuming nets drift for 1 year (Wilcox et al., 2014). Net identification work indicates that less than 10% of ghost nets are coming from Australian fisheries.
The Northern Prawn Fishery Industry Pty Ltd (NPF), Australia’s largest and most valuable prawn fishery, is a trawl fishery operating across northern Australia. The NPF has been a willing partner and leader of many significant initiatives to improve prawn stocks, reduce bycatch and foster research to improve their overall sustainability. The NPF is considered the gold standard of trawl fisheries globally by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Their banana, tiger and endeavour prawn fisheries received Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in 2012 and were re-certified in 2018. NPF fishers encounter ghost nets from time to time, mainly when they becoming entangled in their propellers or active nets or when trawlers are in transit. NPF operators are not contributors to the ghost gear problem in the NPF and do everything they can to avoid losing gear while fishing. They also actively retrieve ghost nets where possible.
The NPF and World Animal Protection are working in partnership to reduce ghost nets found in the NPF, in particular in the Gulf of Carpentaria. This partnership contributes to existing clean-up efforts in the Gulf, specifically by GhostNets Australia working with Indigenous rangers. This is an excellent example of different sectors collaborating to address a global ghost gear hotspot.
In 2015 the NPF formally included ghost gear management, retrieval and data collection within their ‘Operations’ manual to encourage operators to assist with mitigating the ghost net problem.
NPF fishers are also voluntarily helping to remove ghost nets by:
Removal: retrieving ghost nets from the water where feasible. A Raptis & Sons, a key operator in the industry, provides disposal facilities at their Karumba site for vessels to offload ghost nets retrieved. Where collection is not possible, for example during peak fishing times or when ghost nets are too large, nets are buoyed to enable coordination of a later retrieval.
Reporting: fishers log the position of ghost nets encountered and provide information and photos of the net(s) to World Animal Protection.
The project is self-funded by the industry.
The NPF is considering ‘clean up’ days at locations that are difficult to access without a boat, working with GhostNets Australia and World Animal Protection.
Lessons and OUTCOMES
This initiative is in its infancy but crews have already located and retrieved a substantial number of ghost nets. The NPF has also been actively involved in working with indigenous groups and NGOs to reduce the impacts of ghost nets for many years. This important partnership with World Animal Protection is another step in the NPF's journey towards sustainability and an example of how success can be achieved through collaboration across sectors.
Chief Executive Officer, Northern Prawn Fishery