Ghost fishing, is the trapping of animals by derelict or abandoned fishing gear. This indiscriminate, invisible decimation of biodiversity is happening at a much larger scale than is conceivable. Considering that around half of the pacific garbage patch is fishing gear, there needs to be a significant review of the way that fishing gear is disposed of. However, there are people out there who aim to remedy this issue.
The aptly named charity, Ghost Fishing, are a big part of this. Although they can only work on a small scale, their work is deeply important in making a dent in this problem in the areas that are more accessible to humans. Our Wildlife and Environment Editor Ben interviews Christine, an experienced diver and the UK representative of the organization to find out more.
So, describe how Ghost Fishing started as an organization?
‘Ghost Fishing came about from a small number of people in the diving community. We had known about the issue of ghost equipment for a while and decided that we were the community to do something about it. Nobody benefits from the animals caught by this equipment, so there really needed to be an effort to clear as much of it as we possibly could. The main organisation was set up by a guy called Pascal Van Erp in the North Sea area, and then Richard Walker from the UK decided to form a UK chapter after a diving trip in Croatia.’
Who are the people that undertake these projects?
‘We are groups of divers that wanted to get more of a sense of purpose from our diving. We all love the water and are high level divers, not hobbyists, so we knew our capability to do something about this. We find that we also retain divers in the sport through ghost equipment recovery, so our efforts are working well for us in numerous ways.’
So how big a problem is this, do you think?
‘Well, around half of the pacific garbage patch is fishing gear. Considering how much consumer plastic we know that we fill the ocean with, the fact that half of ocean garbage could be fishing gear is unprecedented. People think that the fishing industry is more benign than this, but it simply isn’t the case. Most gear isn’t disposable or biodegradable but can be lost because it is cheaper and easier to leave it than to recover it’
What kind of scale are you working on?
‘We have about 80 divers on the books but most of them just dive and then go home. We can only do so much, and it has to be on a local scale.’
How do you get the funding to get out and do this?
‘We aren’t directly funded by anyone, but we’ve had some specific trips paid for by wildlife protection charities. We are also closely linked to the environmental initiative ‘Healthy Seas’, who upcycle equipment into yarn to prevent it going to landfill. They give us annual funding of around ten thousand euros, but this only covers the bare necessities. We use dive charters and pay for our own petrol. By our calculations it costs around one thousand pounds a day to recover ghost gear. We are all volunteers, so no money goes to us, it all goes into the project.’
What kind of support are you guys after then?
‘Honestly, we need admin and data support. We have a lot of divers, but nobody wants to do the behind the scenes work. We are desperate for data processing and would love more data people to get involved. We are also happy for people to use our data in projects they are doing if they process it for us and share their findings. A few hours a week would help us enormously, but we need commitment so that people aren’t just coming in and out on a conveyor belt’
How do you think society as a whole can mitigate this issue and reduce the need for work like yours?
‘I think society as a whole needs to give thought to the fish they are eating…where it was caught, how it was caught. If you choose to eat fish, stay informed and shop smarter. Pole and line caught is the best, MSC labels are important to the point where I would recommend not buying fish without an MSC label. Support small, local trawlers as we find them less likely to cause problems and more likely to cooperate with us. The best thing is to avoid trawled fish generally as trawlers destroy a lot, there are a lot of hand-picked shellfish out there. We also want to encourage people to eat as sustainably as they can in all walks of life.’
If you are interested in supporting Ghost Fishing in their mission or would like to know more about what you can do to get involved, please send a short paragraph of your skills to firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternativley you can donate to the charity here.
About the Author: Ben Kerwood studies MSc Molecular Biology at Staffordshire University. He is the current wildlife and environment editor here at WILD.