In June 2019, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative® (GGGI), alongside 11th Hour Racing, the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation and local fishers, removed a ten-ton ball of gear from the Gulf of Maine. Roughly the size of a whale shark—the biggest fish in the sea—the gear ball was comprised of nets, ropes, lines and lobster trap fragments that had formed an underwater tumbleweed over the years. It was so heavy that the crane that was originally planned to remove the gear nearly snapped, and the gear instead had to be towed to shore where it was hacked, sawed and deconstructed into pieces that could be recycled and disposed of responsibly.
This removal serves as a stark example of how the problem of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG, or ghost gear) can lurk beneath the ocean surface across the world. It also shows how collaboration is a key part of the solution.
The GGGI works with partners around the world to facilitate gear removals like the one in Maine. In addition to being a critical tool in combatting ghost gear, especially in hotspots where it can destroy sensitive ecosystems or obstruct fishing grounds, removals are a great way to raise awareness of the problem.
While most people know the damage that single-use plastics like bags or straws can cause, ghost gear is a lesser-known, but even more harmful form of plastic pollution: not only is ghost gear among the most prevalent forms of ocean plastic, it is the single most deadly to marine life.
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An estimated 5-30% decline in some fish stocks and damage to important marine habitats can be attributed to ghost gear, and with more than three billion people relying on seafood for at least 20% of their protein, ghost gear is a real and present threat to everyone.
Removals are a critical piece of tackling this problem, but the only way we can end ghost gear for good is by working together to prevent and mitigate gear loss in the first place.
The GGGI does just that: it brings together more than 100 stakeholder groups from the private sector, public agencies, academia, intergovernmental organizations and others from across the fishing industry to tackle ghost gear at a global scale. In 2017, the GGGI developed the Best Practice Framework for the Management of Fishing Gear (BPF) which lays out the path to an ocean free of ghost gear by providing guidance to stakeholders at all levels of the fishing gear lifecycle on how to best prevent, temper the effects of and remove gear when possible.
A new report from the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, Ocean Conservancy and WWF highlights the groups working together on the ground and using the BPF to facilitate this critical work. By understanding how organizations all over the world are working to prevent, remove and recycle lost gear, and what has made each project a success, we can replicate these solutions.
In Vanuatu, for instance, the GGGI worked with the Vanuatu government and local fishers to trial fishing gear tracking technology to prevent future gear loss, while also retrieving fishing gear smothering coral reefs, building capacity on better management of fishing gear and updating fisheries management plans.
In the Gulf of California, the GGGI worked with WWF Mexico, Sea Shepherd, World Animal Protection, the International Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), Monterey Bay Diving and a group of local fishers to locate and remove 5,702 square meters—about 80% the size of a soccer field—of illegal gillnets from the critical vaquita porpoise habitat.
In Myanmar, the GGGI works with the Myanmar Ocean Project and National Geographic Society to raise awareness on ghost gear in fishing communities, gather data on the volume and impacts of ALDFG, train local divers and remove discarded nets from the Myeik Archipelago. In 2019, the project removed almost 2,000 kg of harmful ghost nets from 89 sites.
By working together and leading with science and proven best practices, we can stop ghost gear, and ensure cleaner and safer oceans for all.