Taking Aim at the Ghosts in Our Ocean

Ocean Conservancy assumes leadership of the first global alliance dedicated to tackling the problem of ghost fishing gear

Each day, hundreds of thousands of the most deadly items of marine debris indiscriminately haunt our global ocean. Lost or abandoned fishing gear, better known as “ghost gear,” includes nets, long lines, fish traps, lobster pots or any man-made contraption designed to catch fish or marine organisms.

It’s estimated that 640,000 tons of ghost gear is lost in the ocean every year. Much of this gear is lost during inclement weather activity or at times when fishers’ safety at sea is in jeopardy. In other instances, particularly in regions where high amounts of illegal fishing occurs, a large amount of this gear is simply disposed of at sea to avoid fines or legal action.

ocean conservancy
 Regardless of the means, the outcomes are the same—marine animals and commercially valuable fish stocks are killed and vital underwater habitats destroyed as ghost gear drifts throughout the world’s ocean. In many instances ghost gear affects already depleted commercial fish stocks, placing further strain on fishers, coastal economies and the two billion-plus people around the world that rely on seafood as their primary source of protein.

In the infamous North Pacific Gyre—aka the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—nearly half of all large plastic debris found at the surface is ghost gear. Recent studies indicate that ghost gear is four times more likely to impact on marine life, through entanglement, than all other forms of marine debris combined and has staggering impacts on food security, fisheries sustainability and ultimately, the bottom line of the fishing industry. In January 2019, Ocean Conservancy will embark on a new endeavor to lead the fight against ghost gear in our ocean as Lead Partner of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI).

Launched by World Animal Protection (WAP) in September 2015 and founded on the best available science and technology, the GGGI is the first global collective impact alliance dedicated to tackling the problem of ghost fishing gear on a global scale. It is an established lead platform for the global community to unite under to improve the health and productivity of marine ecosystems, to protect marine animals, and to safeguard human health and livelihoods. The GGGI draws on the strengths and contributions of its participants to create solutions that remove ghost gear from the ocean, and to design and implement policies that prevent gear loss in the first place. To date, more than 100 organizations, including the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), EU Directorate General of Maritime and Fisheries, Oslo PARis

Fisherman getting his net together on the dock under the bridge in Lake Charles Louisiana
Convention Commission (OSPAR) and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) along with 13 National Governments, have now expressed support for the GGGI.

GGGI membership includes representatives from the fisheries sector, industry, retail corporations, academia and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The GGGI serves as a global clearinghouse for information on ghost gear, informs relevant policy debates in both the public and private sector, and catalyzes practical and replicable solutions for on-the-ground and in-the-water removal and prevention of ghost gear.

The GGGI works globally and locally across its three working groups to:

  • build evidence
  • define best practice and inform policy
  • catalyze and replicate solutions

In 2017, GGGI launched a ground-breaking Best Practice Framework for the Management of Fishing Gear (BPF), which recommends practical solutions and approaches to prevent and mitigate the impacts of lost fishing gear across the entire seafood supply chain, from gear manufacturers to port operators to the fishing industry.

Based on the collective work of its members and the strong political commitment expressed in recent years, the GGGI believes that it is possible to achieve, by 2030, a break-even point whereby the global tonnage of gear that is lost in the ocean annually is equal or smaller than the amount of gear that is recovered, recycled and re-used.

As we convene in Bali this next week to engage in the GGGI Annual Meeting and the Our Ocean Conference, we look forward to launching this new chapter together with the GGGI participants and World Animal Protection and continuing to make our ocean a more resilient ecosystem.

Ocean Conservancy is privileged and prepared to steer the GGGI through its next years of leading the fight against ghost gear, growing the initiative and continuing to scale up its impact and influence worldwide.


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