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Global Scheme to Clean up Oceans

06 October 2015

GLOBAL - A new international initiative has been launched to tackle the problems caused by lost and abandoned fishing gear.

The Global Ghost Gear Initiative aims to bring together fishing industry leaders, governments and environmental and animal welfare organisations in a bid to clean up the seas, protect the environment and prevent damage and harm to fish and other aquatic animals.

The scheme was launched last month at a meeting with more then 75 representatives from around the world, including the Marine Stewardship Council, NOAA Marine Debris Program (USA), Sainsbury’s (UK), Young’s Seafood Limited (UK), Australia’s Northern Prawn Fishery and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme based in Samoa.

The new initiative aims to draw together data and evidence about the worst cases and regions for discarded and lost fishing gear, initiate and develop existing solutions to the problem and develop systems of best practice and policies to minimise the effect of lost fishing gear and prevent the problems occurring in the first place.

Ghost gear is caused by extreme weather, accidental loss or deliberate disposal and it results in significant economic loss, environmental costs and damage to the health of the world’s oceans and animals.

According to World Animal Protection, one of the leaders of the project, every year millions of marine animals are trapped, entangled and killed by ghost fishing gear and millions of dollars’ worth of marketable stock is lost by the fishing industry.

WAP estimates that more than 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear are lost each year, which makes up around 10 per cent of global marine litter.

Katherine George, the Global Ghost Gear Initiative Project Manager said that the priority for the next year is to collect data about the hot spots for the lost fishing gear, such as the Gulf of Carpentaria in north Australia and areas around Hawaii and to build a portal that can be used by the fishing industry and organisations around the world.

Funds to build the portal are coming from the United Nations environmental programme.

“We want to build an app for fishermen to use to display ghost gear and show the effect it has on high risk fisheries,” said Ms George.

She added that the data portal will be used to help direct solutions to the problem.

Ms George said that while one group in the initiative will be focusing on the data collection, another will be looking at new ways to solve the problem and also ways of replicating existing measures that are being taken in various parts of the world.

She said that the initiative wants to be able to bring in experts to examine the different programmes and to scale them up to use them around the world.

Among some of the scheme already in practice are an investigation by the Welsh Fishermen’s Association into the use of escape panels in lobster pots to prevent trapping lobsters in pots that have been lost and a scheme by the Healthy Seas Initiative to recycle nets to make econyl yarn for clothing and even carpet tiles.

Other schemes are also recycling lost and abandoned gear into skateboards and sunglasses.

Ms George said that a third group in the initiative is working with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN to develop best practice guides. It is also looking to work with governments to build and inform policy in the issue around the world.

One area it is looking at is to develop a system of gear marking so that lost gear can be traced.

“A lot of the time gear is lost through bad weather or by accident and it is very expensive. The fishermen want to have it back,” said Ms George.

She said that the initiative is working to have the seafood industry implement the concept of marking fishing gear in the supply chain and she added that by having members of the industry such as Young’s Seafood and Sainsbury working on the initiative, it meant that it was working with the industry to develop new practices.

“Ghost fishing impacts the fishermen’s catch and it has an economic impact,” said Ms George.

She added that the first priority of the initiative is to have a reduction in the amount of ghost fishing gear around the world and then to establish a system of retrieval and recycling.

Chris Harris

Chris Harris

Top image via Shutterstock

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