Ghost gear is a problem with a common misconception: many people believe it’s a term for fishing gear that’s been recklessly discarded into the sea. The truth is that fishers don’t want to lose the expensive equipment that provides their income. Fishing gear is usually only abandoned intentionally in emergency situations or when fishers don’t have access to port reception and disposal. Illegal fishers may discard their gear intentionally while trying to evade capture, as they often fish at night and use large amounts of gear to maximize their catch. Severe weather, rocky bottom and underwater conflicts with existing gear can all lead to accidental gear loss.
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When gear is lost, it can wreak havoc on the marine environment and those that depend on it. Ghost gear entangles marine mammals, sea birds, turtles and even boat propellers. Large fishing nets have also been found blanketing entire reefs. Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) continues to catch fish after it’s lost at sea, which explains the term “ghost fishing.” Entangled or entrapped fish then become bait for other marine life, continuing the cycle indefinitely. This makes ghost gear an animal welfare concern, a livelihood and food security issue as well as a navigational hazard.
So how do we manage the most harmful form of marine debris? First, we must be equipped with adequate science, evidence-based knowledge and tools based on best practice. Second, we need collaboration with the fishing industry to develop and implement solutions, best practices and inform sustainability policies. The Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), which is part of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas© program, facilitates all of these strategies. Methods to reduce ghost gear are outlined in a guidance document called the “Best Practice Framework” (or BPF) which was developed with international stakeholders. The BPF is the only global comprehensive guidance document for all stakeholders along the seafood supply chain with preventative, mitigative and curative strategies to address ghost gear. It is a valuable tool for fishing and seafood companies, but also for grocery retailers and restaurants that aim to source sustainable seafood with reduced ghost gear potential.
Since the GGGI’s Best Practice Framework has launched, it has been a useful reference for governing bodies to develop sustainable fishing practices. So far, the GGGI has hosted multiple regional BPF capacity-building workshops in Indonesia, Senegal, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Canada, Kenya and Panama reaching 70+ countries—some alongside the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO). The BPF also nicely complements the UN FAO-developed Voluntary Guidelines on the Marking of Fishing Gear, which provides guidance on the marking, tracking and recovery of ALDFG. Additionally, the BPF has been incorporated into government-led marine litter action plans and fisheries management policies
Our Best Practice Framework is not just a document to be read and understood, but a tool to turn policy into action. These are just a few of the ways the GGGI has accomplished real impacts using the BPF, but we also want to highlight other ways that the BPF is implemented. Look out for our next blog post on how the BPF is utilized within the seafood supply chain!