Ghost nets hurting marine environment
6 May 2009, Rome/Nairobi - Large amounts of fishing gear lost at sea or abandoned by fishers are hurting the marine environment, impacting fish stocks through "ghost fishing" and posing a hazard to ships, according to a new report jointly produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
According to the study, the problem of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) is getting worse due to the increased scale of global fishing operations and the introduction of highly durable fishing gear made of long-lasting synthetic materials.
The report estimates that abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear in the oceans makes up around 10 percent (640 000 tonnes) of all marine litter. Merchant shipping is the primary source on the open sea, land-based sources are the predominate cause of marine debris in coastal areas.
Most fishing gear is not deliberately discarded but is lost in storms or strong currents or results from "gear conflicts," for example, fishing with nets in areas where bottom-traps that can entangle them are already deployed.
The main impacts of abandoned or lost fishing gear are:
- continued catches of fish - known as "ghost fishing" - and other animals such as turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals, who are trapped and die;
- alterations of the sea-floor environment; and
- the creation of navigation hazards that can cause accidents at sea and damage boats.
Gill nets, fishing pots and traps are most likely to "ghost fish," while longlines, are more likely to ensnare other marine organisms and trawls most likely to damage sub-sea habitats.