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U.S. Department of State official lauds Global Ghost Gear Initiative, commits U.S. to tackling most harmful form of ocean plastic

Virtual event highlights solutions to abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear in U.S. waters and beyond

WASHINGTON, DC – At a virtual event celebrating the United States joining the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), representatives from the U.S. Department of State, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Tri Marine Group, University of California Davis, and Ocean Conservancy outlined how the U.S. is tackling abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear – also known as “ghost gear” – in its waters and beyond, and how these efforts can be scaled up. Lauding the work of the GGGI, which the U.S. officially joined in July of this year, Department of State leadership committed to supporting on-the-ground solution projects and leading international policy efforts to address the ghost gear problem.

“The United States recognizes that ghost gear has a significant impact on marine ecosystems, human health, and livelihoods, and we take a whole-of-government approach to being responsible stewards of marine resources,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of States’ Bureau of Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs Jonathan Moore in his remarks. “We encourage all other fishing nations to join us in supporting GGGI’s efforts and to implement the FAO’s Voluntary Guidelines on Marking of Fishing Gear.”

The United States provided critical support for the development of the UN FAO Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear (VGMFG), which is, alongside the GGGI’s Best Practice Framework for the Management of Fishing Gear, is a key governing document for the prevention of ghost gear.

“Partnerships, like those that form the bedrock of the GGGI, are core to Ocean Conservancy’s DNA,” said   Ocean Conservancy CEO Janis Searles Jones in her keynote address. “Collaboration allows us to leverage local expertise and drive a collective, global strategy. We are excited to welcome the United States Government to this global partnership and look forward to continuing to drive policy change, improve fishing industry practices, and scale up tested and proven solutions to the ghost gear problem.”

The Department of State has worked with the GGGI since 2018, providing grant funding for an ongoing project in the Caribbean. Through this work, the GGGI has incentivized good fisheries management by helping to incorporate best  management practices to prevent gear loss into  fisher insurance for hurricanes; trialed innovative fishing gear tracking technologies; performed “hotspot” mapping to locate areas with high levels of gear loss; and facilitated gear recovery where possible. NOAA has been a partner of the GGGI since 2016, and worked to help shape the initiative’s trajectory by serving on its Steering Group for two consecutive years.

In prerecorded remarks, Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) praised the initiative, and highlighted the need to stop plastic pollution while addressing environmental justice.

“The fight for a cleaner ocean has major health, economic and environmental justice implications,” said Senator Udall. “Plastic is a big part of this. As I often say, environmental justice must be our north star. This country is in the midst of an important reckoning about racial justice, and we see that plastic pollution is hurting communities of color more than others. We must change our approach and work to bring these communities into the conversation, and we must reduce our plastic footprint.”

The event also featured a panel discussion between key stakeholders on the ghost gear issue. Nancy Wallace, Chief of the NOAA Marine Debris Division; Dr. Kirsten Gilardi, Professor of Health Science at University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and the Chair of Working Group 43 on Sea-based Sources of Marine Litter of the United Nations Joint Group of Experts in Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP); Matthew Owens, Director of Sustainability at tuna supplier Tri Marine Group; and Ms. Searles Jones discussed ways that all actors involved in seafood capture, production and management can address ghost gear.

“Part of our success has really been bringing stakeholders around the table to collaboratively find solutions to address ghost gear,” said GGGI Director Ingrid Giskes. “From the smallest NGO to the biggest seafood company, everyone is welcome in the Global Ghost Gear Initiative no matter where they are on their sustainability journey, as long as there is a real commitment to reach out a helping hand to others to develop up with innovative, sustainable and scalable solutions to address this problem.”

Launched in 2015 and a part of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® program since 2019, the GGGI is the only cross-sectoral alliance that addresses the problem of abandoned fishing gear worldwide. Through the collective impact of its more than 100 members, including 16 national governments, spanning across the private and public sectors, the GGGI aims to reduce the ecological and economic impacts of ghost gear through prevention, mitigation and removals.

Ghost gear is the single deadliest form of marine debris to sea life, continuing to catch and kill long after it has been lost or discarded in the ocean. It is also one of the most prevalent: recent studies indicate that ghost fishing gear makes up 46-70% of all floating macroplastics in the ocean by weight. Globally, an estimated 90% of species caught in lost gear are of commercial value.

Watch the full event recording here.

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About the Global Ghost Gear Initiative

The Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) is the only cross-sectoral alliance dedicated to solving the problem of abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) – widely referred to as “ghost gear” – around the world. The GGGI brings together more than 100 stakeholder groups, including 15 national governments as well as representatives from civil society, the private sector, public agencies, academia, intergovernmental organizations, and others from across the fishing industry to tackle ghost gear at a global scale. Since its founding in 2015, the GGGI has worked to implement a wide variety of preventative, mitigate and curative approaches to ghost gear, shaping fisheries management policy and building the evidence base around the prevalence and impact of this threat. In 2017, the GGGI developed the Best Practice Framework for the Management of Fishing Gear, which has been adopted by a range of seafood companies and in national and regional marine litter and fisheries management action plans. The GGGI has made meaningful change on the ground in fishing economies and communities, partnering with local fishers to remove ghost gear in places like the Gulf of Maine, Panama City, and Vanuatu. Learn more at www.ghostgear.org

About Ocean Conservancy

Ocean Conservancy is working to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. Together with our partners, we create science-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit www.oceanconservancy.org, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.