How Can Governments and Economies Prevent Ghost Gear?

The threat of ghost gear does not recognize borders, and neither does the solution

Like all of the threats that face our ocean, ghost gear is a problem that does not recognize borders. A piece of fishing gear that snags on a ship in Canada can travel hundreds of miles before finding its way to a reef in Mexico, where it can “ghost fish” for decades on end.

Ghost gear, or abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear, is one of the most prevalent forms of ocean plastic and is the single most harmful to aquatic life. It can also have a hugely damaging impact on people’s livelihoods: in some places, ghost gear can reduce fish stocks by as much as 30%.

It’s a problem that impacts everyone, and we need everyone—from national governments and international forums to individual fishers—to help solve it. Luckily, that’s the Global Ghost Gear Initiative’s (or GGGI) strong suit.

The GGGI works to tackle this threat by bringing together more than 100 groups, including 17 governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and corporations, to develop systemic solutions to the ghost gear problem. We help to strategically remove gear that’s already the water, recycle end-of-life gear, and—perhaps most critically—prevent it from ever being lost in the first place. To achieve this, we developed the Best Practice Framework for the Management of Fishing Gear (BPF). The BPF is the only global comprehensive guidance document for all stakeholders along the seafood supply chain and is a valuable tool not only for fishing and seafood companies but also for governments that want to take on this problem. Together with the UN FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear (VGMFG), which were developed with technical input from the GGGI, they form the foundation of preventative, mitigative and remediating strategies to address ghost gear.

We have already seen governments implement the principles of the BPF into national policy with great success. In 2019, Panama participated in a ghost gear best practices workshop hosted by FAO and GGGI, and has developed a national implementation plan to tackle ghost gear, dedicated resources to ghost gear removal, and passed innovative legislation to prevent gear loss.  Australia has developed a threat abatement plan for the impacts of marine debris, including ghost gear, and is now looking at a large-scale effort to implement this plan through awareness-raising, research, gear removal and gear marking in a major hotspot area. Norway provides one of the most progressive implementation measures for gear tracking and marking in the world, with all fishing gear electronically monitored in real-time in collaboration with the fishing industry, leading to high compliance rates.

Global Ghost Gear Initiative and APEC MAP

Recently, we’ve seen governments signal further action on ghost gear. At last week’s UN FAO Committee of Fisheries Meeting, many countries recognized the importance of addressing ghost gear. In particular, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States all called for continued collaboration on the issue, and highlighted some of the steps they have taken to address this problem internally and domestically.

Two men on a boat untangling fish gear.

Now, the GGGI is scaling up our efforts to include entire regions of the world.  The GGGI is working with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s (APEC) Ocean and Fisheries Working Group (OFWG) to develop ghost gear prevention strategies in APEC economies. Originally proposed by the United States, and sponsored by the United States, Malaysia and Thailand, this project marks a major victory in collaboration across international forums on the ghost gear issue.

APEC is a trade agreement of 21 economies, including recent GGGI members Mexico and the United States, located along the Pacific Ocean. Collectively, APEC economies make up 41.8% of the habitable area of the world and 38% of the world population. Eight of the 10 biggest fishing economies in the world are part of APEC, and together, they harvest nearly 134 million metric tons of seafood each year. By working with this collective, we can make a huge impact on stopping ghost gear.

The GGGI will work with APEC to develop a best practice framework for the region building on the BPF, the VGMFG and lessons outlined in our recent Effective Ghost Gear Solutions report. We will also help to produce a gear marking compendium to help facilitate the implementation of the VGMFG in the region.

The threat of ghost gear may not recognize borders—but now, neither does the solution.

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