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Tackling Ghost Gear in Mexico Waters

The North American Net Collection Initiative (NANCI) is the first transboundary initiative aiming to reduce impacts of ghost gear in Mexico waters

© Ingrid Giskes

Since Mexico is one of 15 countries with the largest marine and coastal areas, it’s not surprising to learn that the presence of abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) exists in Mexican waters. Also known as ghost gear, ALDFG is a problem anywhere in the world where fishing takes place. Results from the first multi-institutional ghost gear removal program in the vaquita marina area launched in 2016, showed that more than 1,300 nets were removed from the Northern Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez) as of 2020.

In addition, North America’s Pacific Coast is home to several commercially important fish species and supports a diverse marine economy in the United States, Canada and Mexico. In 2020, Mexico recorded 1.7 million metric tons in total fish catch, the third-highest in Latin America. This impacts income for 300,000 people directly involved in fishing and contributes to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) goal of a world without hunger and malnutrition. However, 42% of Mexico’s population lives in poverty which makes addressing ghost gear pertinent to people’s livelihoods and food security.

Eliminating ghost gear as the most lethal form of marine plastic debris requires a targeted and holistic approach across prevention, mitigation and remediation as detailed in the GGGI Best Practice Framework for the Management of Fishing Gear for Capture Fisheries (C-BPF).

Celebrating Mexico’s first GGGI anniversary

So far, 18 countries have joined the GGGI to contribute to a cleaner, safer and more resilient ocean. To address ghost gear in North America, the Canadian government joined the GGGI in 2018 during the G7 meeting, followed by the United States government, the world’s largest economy and a major fishing nation, in 2020. In response to the inclusion of the Government of Mexico in the GGGI in late 2020, the GGGI created the North American Net Collection Initiative (NANCI)-the first-ever transboundary initiative to prevent ghost gear in the coastal waters of the western United States, Mexico, and Canada.

What could be the main challenge that a country with coastlines as extensive as Mexico could face to combat ghost fishing gear in its territory? Empowering local communities is one of the biggest challenges for our country. For this, it is clear that the conditions for creating capacities for these communities are key factors. Additionally, artisanal fishermen must take ownership of the projects and the sustainable development of their own communities. The lack of coordination and alignment between stakeholders, especially between the 3 levels of government in collaboration with NGOs, private initiative and fishing communities, is another great challenge we have ahead to face in order to solve this crisis.
– Martha Delgado, Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sherpa of Mexico before the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy

What is NANCI?

The GGGI, along with the Government of Mexico and several local nonprofit organizations (including WWF Mexico, Pronatura Noroeste, Manta Caribbean Project, Wildcoast and Bureo Inc.), and supported by a grant from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program, the Builders Initiative and a diverse set of funders have come together to tackle ALDFG in a holistic way under the NANCI initiative. The goals of the project include:

  • Develop knowledge of ghost gear in Mexico

We have initiated research to map areas of high concentration of ghost fishing gear in Mexico’s waters. This will help identify where and how to direct efforts for the tremendous challenge of eliminating the deadliest form of marine plastic debris in Mexico. With our partners of Natural Resources Consultants, Inc., we have developed a probabilitymodel to identify areas of potential for ghost gear occurrence in the Pacific and the Atlantic waters of Mexico. This was made using spatial representation of variables known to influence the probability of fishing gear loss (including the concentration of fishing effort, bathymetric depths, wind speed, current speed, vessel traffic and benthic terrains). This analysis will provide guidance when determining where to apply resources to address ALDFG. The predictive model will be a living product that will be shaped and updated as more data is generated. For example, with our Mexican partners of Pronatura Noroeste and Manta Caribbean Project, we are conducting on-the-ground fisher surveys using a design developed by FAO to evaluate ghost gear impact in Mexico.

  • Facilitate the development of Mexico’s ghost gear action plan

An action plan for preventing, mitigating and remediating ghost gear will be created, incorporating knowledge and expertise from around the world, based on the GGGI Best Practice Framework for the Management of Fishing Gear (BPF), and incorporating Mexico’s social, political, ecological and economic context.

  • Promote trilateral collaboration

The ghost gear issue is an international one, and the complexity of it cannot be handled by Mexico alone. The United States, Canada and Mexico will support each other in this joint matter. We hope to expand future iterations of this project in these three countries as well as in the Latin American and Caribbean communities.

“Reducing the threat of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear is a priority for NOAA’s Marine Debris Program. We are pleased to support this important effort and work with partners in California and Mexico to help protect our shared environment,” said MaryLee Haughwout, acting director of the Marine Debris Program.

Man stands with fishing nets being recycled
© Ingrid Giskes
  • Remove ghost gear from critical areas

Demonstrating how to remove gear directly supports a healthy ecosystem and raises awareness of the scope and impact of ghost gear among stakeholders in Mexico. It will also provide technical expertise to local NGOs who can continue removal work in the future.

  • Transform end-of-life fishing nets into high-value consumer goods

Bureo’s Net Positiva program operates through a shared-value model built around the ability to upcycle end-of-life fishing nets into products. This way, nets will be collected for recycling and kept out of Mexican and U.S. waters.

A collection hub is being established in the port of Ensenada, Mexico, where end-of-life fishing nets will be collected and packed for transport to Bureo’s new net processing facility located in Ventura, California.

“Building on Bureo’s experience of operating collection hubs across South America with their need for meeting their increased demand for recycled fishing net material, there is clearly an emerging opportunity to not only allow NANCI to succeed within the parameters of this project but to scale beyond where a permanent solution can be offered to many more fishermen across the country of Mexico. This would enable the program to not only eliminate this pollution but also provide significant employment opportunities and a united effort to empower communities to create a positive solution for this material.”
– Ben Kneppers, Co-founder of Bureo Inc.

In the last few months-together with our local and international partners¾we have accomplished activities such as research on the volume of end-of-life fishing gear in Mexico, reached key fisheries stakeholders willing to get involved in the net collection and recycling program, and developed a probability model to identify areas of potential for ghost gear occurrence in the Pacific and the Atlantic waters of Mexico.

We will continue collaborating to: establish and operate a central fishing gear collection hub in Mexico to collect and bale all nets for processing; conduct fisher surveys in the all coastal Mexican states to evaluate ghost gear impact; organize fisheries stakeholder workshops to raise awareness and promote training on best practices for gear management and for gear loss prevention; support a project in the central Gulf of California to raise awareness; collect and properly dispose ghost gear and detect ghost gear in sensitive habitats informing the results through the Ghost Gear Reporter App. The NANCI project is the first ever transboundary initiative of this scale and nature with opportunities to make a real difference on the ground and to provide a model going forward in other Latin American and Caribbean nations!

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