Illegal fishing linked to surge in ‘ghost gear’ in the oceans

Around 640,000 tons of fishing equipment is left in the oceans each year, threatening whales, dolphins, seals and turtles, claims green group.

The green group World Animal Protection (WAP)is calling on governments to take action against the increasing problem of ‘ghost gear’ being left in the oceans and damaging the ecosystem.

In the lead up to the UN Ocean Conference on June 5-9 and the SeaWeb Seafood Summit from June 5-7, WAP is calling on governments and industries to address the 640,000 metric tons of ‘ghost gear’ lost or discarded in the oceans each year

The vast majority of this gear is made of plastics that take centuries to degrade. Animals such as whales, dolphins, seals and turtles that are caught in the fishing gear suffer a prolonged and painful death, usually suffocating or starving to death over a number of months.

Reports show that more than 817 species of marine life are affected by this marine litter, said WAP.

In addition, the ghost gear eventually breaks down into microplastics and can enter the human body through the fish we consume.

More than a quarter of fish sold at markets in Indonesia and California now contain plastic from different sources most likely also including ghost gear, claims WAP.

The level of ghost gear has increased in recent years and is likely to grow further as fishing efforts intensify, creating wide-ranging problems for the marine environment and costing governments millions of dollars in clean-up expenses.

“As industry and political leaders gather at two key international summits in early June, World Animal Protection is calling on governments and industry to recognize the urgent need to rid our oceans of ghost gear death traps and join the Global Ghost Gear Initiative.”

Meanwhile, research has also revealed a correlation between illegal fishing activity and ghost gear, said WAP.

When fishing activities are illegal, enforcement pressure leads fishermen to sometimes abandon their fishing gear to evade capture by authorities or to avoid being denied entry to port.

Hotspot areas for IUU fishing can lead to a greater prevalence of ghost gear, which has led to key organisations including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), to formally acknowledge the link between ghost gear and this illegal activity.

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