‘Ghost Gear’ Is Haunting Our Oceans And Seas
Our oceans are being haunted by ‘Ghost Gear’. This abandoned or lost fishing gear is the deadliest form of plastic
debris for marine life and is trashing our ocean and beaches around the globe. It is also a large contributor to the
ocean plastics crisis. About 46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (which covers an area six times the size of New
Zealand) is made of ghost gear.
A new report from WWF, Stop Ghost Gear: The most deadly form of marine plastic debris, shines a lights on how destructive ghost gear* is for our environment and wildlife. It is responsible for harming 66%
of marine mammal species, half of seabird species and all species of sea turtles, while often subjecting them to a slow,
painful, and inhumane death. It also damages vital marine habitats such as coral reefs and mangroves and threatens the
food sources and livelihoods of coastal communities and fishers.
From 1995-2005, the rates of entanglement for the fur seals in Kaikōura are among the highest reported in the world.
Just last month, a New Zealand fur seal pup was found entangled in fisheries gear on a beach north of Kaikōura. Rescuers
said the pup became rapidly weaker through the afternoon, convulsing periodically. Despite being freed, the pup died the
same evening. (this story can be found here
) Plastic is putting our local and native species, some of which are already endangered, at further risk. A handful of
studies have demonstrated that ingestion and entanglement have caused harm to endangered green turtles, seabirds, fish,
and fur seals.
Commenting on the report, Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International said:
“While the consequences of plastic waste are finally starting to receive the attention they deserve, there’s still too
little awareness about the catastrophic harm caused by ghost gear. This needs to change urgently given that it’s the
most deadly form of marine plastic debris and that it can linger in our oceans for centuries, wreaking havoc like some
kind of immortal menace: continuously and cruelly killing whales, dolphins, seals, seabirds, turtles and sharks, and
damaging vital ocean habitats.
“This report unveils the impact and the tragic scale of this invisible ocean killer, and how it is linked to the
practices of fishers and the fishing industry, as well as making it very clear that the current legal framework on
marine plastic pollution and ghost gear is fragmented and ineffective. This is a global problem which requires
coordinated action across the world, which is why WWF urges governments and businesses to support the establishment of a
new global UN treaty on plastic pollution that sets out global goals and binding targets for both land- and marine-based
plastic pollution, which in turn can help drive robust local regulation of ghost gear. We must stop ghost gear from
decimating marine life and drowning the ocean we all depend on once and for all.”
Aotearoa is already ahead of many countries, our Government has joined Global Ghost Gear Initiative
(GGGI) - a global alliance of fishing industry, private sector, corporates, NGOs, academia and governments focused on
solving the problem of lost and abandoned fishing gear worldwide. The GGGI works to remove abandoned nets from the
water, establish gear collection and recycling programs, develop tools that enable better tracking and recovery of gear,
and move towards improved gear management and more sustainable fishing practices in small-scale fisheries. But there is
still more to do.
“It is heartening to see New Zealand step up to the challenge and commit to the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, but the
work does not end there. We have a chance to lead the world by stepping up to support the establishment of a new global
treaty to stop plastic pollution. There is no place on Earth that has not been touched by plastic. It’s estimated people
consume a credit card of plastic a week. We’ve made an almighty mess, and now it's time to clean up,” says Livia
Esterhazy, WWF-New Zealand CEO.
Notes to Editors:
*Ghost gear is a common name for abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear such as gillnets, traps and pots,
or fish aggregation devices. Gear is abandoned when the fisher cannot retrieve it, which happens when gear is snagged on
reefs, rocks or other obstructions. Gear is considered lost if a fisher cannot locate it or has lost operational control
over it. This can happen when marker buoys become detached, or tides or wave action or snagging carry fishing gear away
from its deployment location. Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing also contributes considerable amounts of
ghost gear, as illegal fishers abandon or discard fishing gear to conceal their activities. Sometimes fishing gear is
also discarded into the ocean deliberately. This behaviour can be motivated by lack of adequate onshore disposal
facilities, high disposal costs, or lack of storage space onboard.
The report shows that:
At least 10 per cent of marine litter worldwide is estimated to be made up of fishing waste, which means that between
500,000 and 1 million tons of fishing gear are entering the world’s ocean every year.
The number of species affected by either entanglement or ingestion of plastic debris has doubled since 1997, from 267 to 557 species. 66% of marine mammals, 50% of seabirds, and all 7 species of marine turtles .
5.7 per cent of all fishing nets, 8.6 per cent of traps and pots, and 29 per cent of all fishing lines used globally are
lost around the world each year.
Ghost gear damages valuable marine habitats, damaging coral, harming the habitats of sessile animals, damaging
vegetation, causing sediment build-up, and impeding access to key ecosystems.
Ghost gear has negative economic impacts, posing dangers to livelihoods and navigation by boat.Studies estimate that over 90 per cent of species caught in ghost gear are of commercial value.
Ghost gear can act as a navigation hazard, affecting a vessel’s propulsion and the ability to manoeuvre, causing operational delays, economic loss and, in
extreme cases, injuries or even the loss of lives of crew members or ferry passengers.
The scale of the ghost gear problem:
11,436 tons of traps and 38,535 tons of set-nets/gillnets are abandoned every year in South Korean waters.
An estimated 160,000 blue crab traps were lost every year in the Chesapeake Bay in the Atlantic Coastal Plain of the
eastern US between 2004 and 2008.
More than 70km of gillnets were lost in Canada’s Greenland Halibut fishery in just five years.
An estimated 5,500-10,000 gillnet pieces were lost in the Baltic Sea each year between 2005 and 2008.
Economic costs of ghost gear:
An estimated 178,874 harvestable crabs valued at US$ 744,296 were lost in lost crab traps in one season in the Puget
Sound, along the northwestern coast of the US state of Washington.
A blue crab harvest increase of 13,504 tons, valued at US$ 21.3 million, was documented after removing 34,408 derelict
crab traps over six years.
The economic harm caused to fishers also includes the loss of the gear itself. In one crab fishery in British Columbia,
annual replacement of lost gear costs the fishery over US$ 490,000.
Gaps and challenges in existing international frameworks:
A lack of harmonized binding standards at the global level for the mitigation of pollution by plastic waste, including
A lack of global standards for research, monitoring and reporting of ghost gear, which leads to geographic gaps on the
scale of the issue in many parts of the world;
A lack of coordinated efforts to address and assess the extent of ghost gear in the marine environment, and the
associated marine species, ecosystem and health risks;
A lack of effective compliance and enforcement mechanisms;
No global liability and compensation mechanism for pollution by plastic, including ghost gear.