Environment & Sustainability
You Know What’s Really Scary? Ghost Fishing.
By Patrick Brydon, Broadreach HQ
Want to hear a ghost story? It’s not your traditional ghost story, per se. No masked killers, poltergeists or goblins here. Our story starts deep in the ocean, on a coral reef just like the one fringing your favorite local beach. On this reef, fish, turtles and whales are facing a nemesis that attacks silently and unscrupulously. Our favorite ocean creatures are disappearing in record numbers, trapped beneath the waves. The culprit is a phantom menace beneath the waves – GHOST FISHING!
In the spirit of Halloween, we here at BRHQ feel it is our duty to expose the terrifying practice of ghost fishing, in hopes of trapping it in our ‘Eco Containment Units’ and locking it away for good. Props if you caught that Ghostbusters reference.
THE GHOSTLY PROBLEM
Ghost Fishing is what fishing gear does when it has been lost, dumped or abandoned in the ocean. Essentially, this is fishing gear that continues to fish from beyond the grave. These pieces of gear include nets, long lines, fish traps or any man-made contraptions designed to catch fish or marine organisms. All of these items are capable of ghost fishing when unattended, and without anyone profiting from the catches, they are affecting already depleted commercial fish stocks. Fish entangled in these nets will die, and in turn attract scavengers which will get caught in that same net, thus creating a vicious circle.
We are all aware of the amount of plastic debris floating on the surface of the ocean (think microplastics and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) but the debris that sinks below the surface is taking its own massive toll on our marine resources.
– An estimated 640,000 tons of fishing gear are left in our oceans each year, making up about 10% of marine litter.
– 25,000 nets in the north-east Atlantic are recorded lost or discarded annually.
– 1 ghost net can kill $20,000 (USD) worth of Dungeness crab over 10 years.
– 870 nets have been recovered off the coast of Washington State, which contained more than 32,000 marine animals.
– Current estimates state that 136,000 seals, sea lions, whales per year can end up as victims of ghost fishing.
I AIN’T AFRAID OF NO GHOSTS!
All of you Broadreach scuba divers might be dusting off your BCDs to jump in the water and remove some ghost fishing nets, but not so fast! Remember, due to the complex nature of cleaning up massive piles of tangled lines and nets, ghost net cleanup is often best left to divers trained in technical diving practices. But you can still help! Just start by removing debris from your local dive site and expand from there. Do not go beyond your capabilities and keep things safe. You might even consider joining Project AWARE’s Dive Against Debris program. While the ultimate solution might come down to cooperation among the seafood industry and governmental/non-governmental organizations worldwide, there is still so much we can do.
Get your friends and family involved by telling them about the Healthy Seas Initiative or the Net-Works program. Or even start your own initiative with the Ghost Fishing Foundation. Spread the word on why it is so important to stop polluting the seas and oceans with litter!
GHOSTBUSTERS IN ACTION
GhostNets Australia, which started out as an alliance of 15 indigenous communities living along the country’s northern shores, takes a land-based approach to their ghost net problem. Rangers there have collected more than 13,000 nets that have washed up on the 3000 km of shoreline they patrol. GhostNets Australia then takes the nets to their communities where people apply traditional weaving skills to turn them into bags, baskets and mats. Today, many of the nets are even reborn as striking pieces of aboriginal art.
Although you don’t have to go all the way to Australia to find grassroots initiatives to recycle ghost nets. Here in our very own state of North Carolina, a NC State student by the name of Heather Nixon is recycling ghost nets into beautiful pieces of wearable art – Ghost net fashion.
And who wouldn’t want to show off their ghost net fashion, while cruising down Main Street in a skateboard made out of recycled ghost nets?
The bottom line is, find your own way to go bust some ghost nets, and go out and do it!