World Animal Protection and Ghost Fishing UK Tackles Ghost Gear in Orkney, PART 2

Ghost Fishing UK

Ghost Fishing UK

25th-30th September, 2016

A team of volunteers returned to Scapa Flow in September 2016 to continue their project tackling the issue of ghost gear in Orkney.

Scapa Flow is located in the Orkney Islands, off the Northern coast of Scotland. The Orkneys have a long history of fishing, and are predominantly known for their quality shellfish traditionally caught using pots. Pots (or creels as they are also known) are cages 1m x 0.6m x 0.6m in approximate dimension, made using metal frames and nylon netting. These pots are attached to ropes, spaced every 25m and the whole assembly known as a ‘string’. Each string is in the region of 500m long and occasionally multiple strings are connected together. The strings are marked at the surface with a buoy at each end of the string. During storms, or due to inadvertent contact with a ships propeller, the marker buoys can detach and make finding and recovering the strings very difficult.


When dealing with the removal of large nets and pots, there is a clear need for experience and training. Lifting objects from the seabed involves cutting lines, attaching bags which are subsequently filled with air to give the required lift and monitoring their progress to the surface. These techniques are beyond the capabilities of most recreational divers, and proper training is required to ensure the ghost gear is recovered in safely and efficiently.

After the 2015 project, Rich Walker, head of internationally renowned technical diving group Global Underwater Explorersmet with several groups around the UK committed to helping in the Ghost Fishing initiative. There was significant interest in engaging in these activities and many are already involved in limited recovery of ghost gear. 

For the 2016 project Rich Walker provided the necessary training for divers to undertake simple lifting projects in their own localities. He also delivered a session on the legal complexities of removing items from the seabed, particularly in England. The UK Marine & Coastal Access Act (2009) has legislation that anyone involved in recovering ghost fishing equipment must be aware of.  They highlighted the relevant sections and their implications and discuss strategies for achieving goals and legal compliance.

They also trained divers on the project to identify certain important species as part of the attempt to collect data on these species at seabed level prior to lifting the ghost gear. This provided valuable in situ data about the amount of life trapped by lost pots and will go on to contribute to the global set of data being developed by the GGGI.


The MV Halton was used as the dive vessel for the week, skippered by Bob Anderson. More than this, Bob Anderson is committed to maintaining a permanent data collection strategy in Scapa Flow, which will aid the recovery of ghost gear in the future.

Gear recovered on this dive:

During the week, the 12 divers made over 150 dives to depths of 30m, each dive being approximately one hour long. The majority of these dives were on German ships scuttled at the end of the World War 1.

The Ghost Fishing UK team recovered:

  • 48 pots and creels used for shell fishing

  • 200kg of dredging nets

  • Several hundred metres of ropes

The recovery of these pots, creels and netting will now make the waters of Scapa Flow a safer place for fish, crabs and other shellfish, in addition to providing valuable data about the scale and nature of the problem.

Experimental Technology

The 2016 project took much of the experience from the 2015 Ghost Fishing week and set up a number of initiatives in response. The local response was significant so a website was developed to allow a community reporting program to be implemented which provides intelligence for future dive clean up operations. 

The wrecks are frequently visited by a large recreational diving population, so the website seeks to engage these divers and gather their observations on a voluntary, citizen science data collection model.

Within the website a small bespoke app was developed, funded and embedded to address the technical challenges of the reporting program. Any user can now register their interest, record an observation and track when that item is removed.

Participant Projectpb+j