A study into abandoned and lost commercial fishing gear — or “ghost gear” — has found more than a quarter of all fishing lines wind up in the ocean each year, creating hazards to wildlife.
- Abandoned fishing gear can entangle wildlife or be ingested by animals
- Scientists calculated the amount of gear abandoned using European and US data but say there are “knowledge gaps” in other areas
- Researchers want to help the world’s 40 miliion fishers reduce the incidence of lost gear
CSIRO scientists analysing 40 years of data estimate 6 per cent of fishing nets, 9 per cent of pots and traps and 29 per cent of lines are lost globally each year.
Researcher and University of Tasmania PhD student Kelsey Richardson said fishing gear could have a wide range of effects on the environment.
“It impacts marine wildlife, including entanglement and ingestion,” she said.
“It can also wind up on beaches and fragile coastal environments where it can damage coastal habitats.”
Ms Richardson said there was a lot of research about fishing gear loss in the United States and Europe, but it was limited elsewhere.
“Unfortunately there are knowledge gaps in Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America and research should really be prioritised in those areas,” she said.
“This data can be used to better understand the amounts of fishing gear losses around the world, particularly in those regions where little research has been undertaken about fishing gear losses.”
Economic and environmental impacts
Conservation group World Animal Protection has previously estimated around 640,000 tonnes of “ghost gear” is left in oceans each year and can stay in the oceans for up to 600 years, trapping animals as large as whales and causing them long and painful deaths.
Just this year, a Californian not-for-profit group called Ocean Voyages Institute removed 40 tonnes of fishing nets during a 25-day expedition from Honolulu to a Pacific Ocean gyre, where currents converge to create massive dump of lost and abandoned gear.
Principal research scientist with CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere, Denise Hardesty, said the amount of waste needed to be reduced.
“By understanding where and why gear is lost, we can help target interventions to reduce fishing gear ending up in our oceans,” Dr Hardesty said.
“When fishers lose gear at sea, they are not only adding to plastic pollution, but affecting their livelihoods.
“An estimated 40.3 million people are employed in fisheries globally and the costs of replacing gear can add up quickly.”
Recreational fishers also on notice
Dr Eric Woehler from Birdlife Tasmania said he had seen the impact fishing gear had on wildlife.
“The most common event that I’ve seen is carcasses of birds that wash up on beaches with netting or fishing line tangled around their feet, or tangled around their wings, which is likely the cause of death of these birds,” he said.
“We have seen sea birds using plastic netting and fishing line and discarded marine debris in the construction of their nest.
“The risk is for their chicks to ingest some of this material.”
He said it was not just commercial fishing gear affecting the environment.
“We have no idea how much recreational gear in terms of netting and fishing lines will disappear as well, so it’s not just commercial fishing, it’s everything that’s going into the marine environment that poses a risk,” he said.