Ghost Fishing Gear is Haunting Our Oceans
During the month of October, there will be stories circulating the internet and airwaves that will give you a fright. In ocean conservation, we share stories of the deep blue, such as The Flying Dutchman, a legendary ghost ship said to never make it to its port and doomed to sail the oceans forever. And other folklore, such as Davy Jones, one of the most feared restless spirits of the sea. While these stories are eerie, one of the most haunting stories of our oceans is the story of ghost fishing gear.
What Is Ghost Fishing Gear?
As defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), â€œderelict” fishing gear, sometimes referred to as “ghost gear” is any discarded, lost, or abandoned fishing gear in the marine environment. This gear continues to fish and trap animals, entangle and potentially kill marine life, smother habitats, and act as a hazard to navigation. Derelict fishing gear, including braided fishing line, is one of the main types of debris impacting the marine environment today.
The phrase â€œghost fishing gearâ€ encompasses several types of gear, including drift nets, fishing line, Fish Aggregating Devices (FADS), traps, and pots. In order to combat derelict fishing gear, we encourage you to become familiar with the different types of gear.
How Does It Affect Marine Life?
Currently, it is estimated that over 800,000 tons of ghost gear end up haunting our marine environment each year and poses a threat to marine life and marine ecosystems. Of this ghost gear, the fishing gear accounts for 58% of all macro-plastics (larger than 5mm) affecting our oceans, which will eventually become nano and microplastic pieces that enter the food chain.
Because fishing gear is often transparent and difficult to see, when itâ€™s abandoned it continues to silently sweep through the sea, trapping anything in its path. Without reason, these ghosts of the sea continue toÂ spook and ensnareÂ unsuspecting fish, whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles, birds, and even SCUBA divers. Itâ€™s estimated that ghost fishing gear is responsible for 650,000 animal deaths each year, including 5-30% of global harvestable fish stocks. While an individual animal may become entangled in ghost fishing gear, large fishing nests are capable of trapping hundreds of animals and multiple species at the same time, which proves detrimental to our marine ecosystems.
Unfortunately, our Center often witnesses the effects of abandoned ghost fishing gear. For instance, members of our team rescued two crabs entangled in braided fishing line during our Centerâ€™s underwater cleanups held in April at the Juno Beach Pier. Additionally, our Center often receives sea turtle patients that have been entangled in ghost fishing gear, including one of our most recent patients, Margaret Ingles.
In addition to entangling and entrapping animals, and poisoning the food chain, ghost fishing gear can harm and even destroy marine ecosystems like coral reefs. Scientists, snorkelers, and scuba divers have found fishing nets that have settled on coral reefs. When a nest settles on a coral reef it damages the coral and can prevent the reef from receiving the necessary amount of sunlight to survive.
Itâ€™s vital that eco-advocates learn more about the potential dangers of this gear, and reduce the amount of derelict gear in our oceans, given the dangers it presents to marine life and the environment.
Become a Derelict Fishing Gear Ghostbuster
If there’s something strange
In the waterway
Whatcha gonna do?
(Clean it up)
If there’s something weird
And it don’t look good
Whatcha gonna do?
(Clean it up)
Together, we can exorcise ghost fishing gear from our oceans and create a safer environment for marine and human life. To help you become a derelict fishing gear ghostbuster, weâ€™ve compiled a brief list on how to get involved with marine debris removal efforts. Â
- Join LMC for a self-guided beach cleanup
- Visit the Juno Beach Pier, or another Responsible Pier Initiative partner, to learn more about LMCâ€™s ghost fishing gear removal efforts
- Contact your local conservation organizations to learn more about the initiatives and volunteer opportunities they offer, such as underwater cleanups
- Properly dispose of all fishing line, including nets, hooks, and other gear in monofilament recovery and recycling receptacles to prevent it from entering the ocean
- If a recycling receptacle is not available, dispose of the fishing gear in a trash can instead
Next time youâ€™re sharing scary stories, donâ€™t forget to mention the real ghosts haunting our oceans â€“ ghost fishing gear!
Loggerhead Marinelife Center. Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) is a nonprofit sea turtle research, rehabilitation and educational institution that promotes conservation of ocean ecosystems with a focus on threatened and endangered sea turtles. The Center features an on-site hospital, research laboratory, educational exhibits and aquariums, and also operates the Juno Beach Pier, which hosts world-class angling and sightseeing. Situated on one of the worldâ€™s most important sea turtle nesting beaches, Loggerhead Marinelife Center is open daily and hosts over 360,000 guests free-of-charge each year. The Centerâ€™s conservation team works with 90 local and international organizations across six continents to form partnerships and share conservation initiatives and best practices that are core to its mission of ocean conservation. The Center is expanding and has launched its Waves of Progress capital expansion campaign, designed to accelerate and amplify LMCâ€™s conservation and education impact. For more information, visit www.marinelife.org or call (561) 627-8280.