Clever Ways to Solve Tragedy of Ghost Fishing

fishing net photo
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Photo by NOAA Photo Library via Flickr CC

A new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) highlights information that is already pretty obvious: fishing gear tossed in the ocean is hurting the marine environment, harming fish stocks through "ghost fishing," and is hazardous to ships. Lost or abandoned marine fishing gear makes up 10% of the marine litter, showing the significance of the problem. But there are some interesting solutions, including a clever buy-back program.

The Problem With Lost Gear
The very hefty report outlines most everything we can currently know about lost and abandoned marine gear and its impacts on wildlife and ecosystems. Some of the impacts include continued killing of the target species along with non-target species who come in to eat the trapped fish, harming species like sponges and corals as nets drag along the sea floors, and of course more plastic introduced into the food system.

Clean Up Efforts Not So Easy
Efforts for clean up of materials are expensive and about as impractical as cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Volunteer efforts are of course wonderful, but also very dangerous, and not all that impactful in the bigger picture.

For ways to stop the harm done by more lost gear, the report suggests that all gear should be clearly marked so it can be linked back to the owner, as well as suggesting that the owners should utilize GPS technology so that any lost gear can be located. These sound like great ideas, but they're suggestions and lack teeth, unfortunately.

Buy-Back Programs for Found Gear
What works a little more effectively are plans like gear guy-back programs, such as what was implemented in the North Sea, which effectivley collected 450 tons of litter within the 3 year project.

The Waste Fishing Gear Buy-back project has been implemented successfully in the Republic of Korea since 2003, aiming at collecting fisheries-related marine litter (such as fishing nets, traps, lines, floats) deposited in the sea and on the sea bed. Since fishers used to collect waste fishing gear during fishing operation and throw it back into the sea, the buy-back project is especially designed to encourage fishers to bring ashore the litter collected, as part of fishing activities. This is achieved by providing large, hardwearing bags to the boats so that litter can be easily collected and deposited on the quayside. An economic incentive is also given to fishers: when they bring back waste fishing gear collected during fishing operation to the designated place, it is purchased at the cost of
approximately US$10 per 100 litre bag. The budget for this programme is shared between
central and local governments.

A buy-back program, if properly implemented and funded, could be a great solution, especially if fishermen are already bringing up trash with their daily catches. Educating them on how to carefully remove nets entangled in ecosystems could also be a plus, so that retrieval doesn't do extra damage.

The full report is available on UNEP's website.

Via Press Release