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Ghost gear killing thousands of marine animals 

The continuous dumping of ghost gear in water bodies is posing the greatest threat to marine life, a global animal welfare body, World Animal Protection has warned.

According to World Animal Protection (WAP), at least 640,000 tones of ghost gear, which include abandoned, lost fishing nets are added unto oceans every year. Ghost gear traps, kills and mutilates millions of marine animals including the endangered whales, seals and turtles.

A turtle trapped by ghost fishing gear

“The vast majority of entanglements cause serious harm or death. Swallowing plastic remnants from ghost gear leads to malnutrition, digestive blockages, poor health and death. Ghost gear undermines the viability of our fisheries too, as it catches and kills an enormous volume of seafood which would otherwise form part of the regular catch, in some cases worth millions of dollars depending on the fishery,” Edith Kabesiime the wildlife campaign manager, WPA said in the press statement issued recently.  

She also said, it’s impossible to talk about ghost gear without talking about plastics. The volume of both macro plastics (plastic remnants visible to the human eye) and micro plastics generated by ghost gear is staggering.

Since some plastics can withstand up to 600 years of ocean conditions, the threat to ocean environments is far reaching.

“As much as 92 per cent of marine animal/debris encounters involve plastic debris. 71 per cent of entanglements involve plastic ghost gear,” Kabesiime said.

Kabesiime added that micro plastics also pollute marine food webs. Toxic impacts are not fully understood, but could include embryo development, altered genetic profiles and hormone disruption.

“45 per cent of all marine mammals on the red list of threatened species have been impacted by lost or abandoned fishing gear. Already threatened ecosystems, including shallow coral reef habitats, also suffer further degradation from ghost fishing gear,” Kabesiime said.

She said, the impacts of ghost gear are both staggering and truly global in proportion. For example: in just one deep-water fishery in the northeast Atlantic, some 25,000 nets have been recorded lost or discarded annually.

“Almost 5,000 derelict nets removed from Puget Sound through retrieval programs were entangling over 3.5 million marine animals annually, including 1,300 marine mammals, 25,000 birds, and 100,000 fish,” she said.

She said, ghost gear is also extremely damaging to the sustainability of fisheries and marine habitats. Kabesiime said, priority should be given to tackling the problem of ghost gear, given its link to other key issues affecting ocean health macro plastics, micro plastics, pollution, food security, and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and ultimately to prevent the accumulation of more ghost gear in our oceans and seas.

WAP’s Sea Change Campaign, launched in 2014 with its Fishing’s Phantom Menace report, works with stakeholders to tackle ghost gear with the 4 R’s: Reducing the volume of fishing gear entering the oceans; Removing ghost gear already there; Recycling ghost gear in innovative ways; and Rescuing marine animals.


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