The problem of ghost fishing gear has reached public prominence over the past five years. It is a normal part of fishing that nets, shellfish traps and other equipment becomes lost. This is not a deliberate or careless act on behalf of the fishing community, simply a reality of a very harsh environment. The problem is that the lost gear continues to catch marine life. This has an undocumented effect on the local ecosystem, but is clearly undesirable in any sense. Animals are being needlessly killed.
What we do
Ghost Fishing was set up to try to remove this lost equipment from the marine environment. It is a challenging and difficult task. Ghost gear is typically entangled in reefs and wrecks, and its removal can be complicated. The technique involves attaching bags to the gear, which the diver fills with air, making them float. The divers then cut the gear free as close to the seabed as possible. Great care is needed to ensure that the diver does not become entangled with the equipment. This involves a high degree of teamwork, coordination and discipline.
Ghost Fishing UK was initiated in 2015 at an inaugural project in Scapa Flow. The international Ghost Fishing project sent 6 delegates from the Netherlands to assist the projects inception. Six UK based divers also joined the team and these divers formed the core of new UK team. During this project, over 65 lost creels and pots were recovered, along with 1000 kg of fishing net and over a kilometer of ropes. This material was recycled into clothing, refurbished pots and creels, and the ropes were made into decorative doormats. Very little recovered gear was sent to landfill. The project also started a cooperative effort between Ghost Fishing and Heriot Watt University, particularly Dr. Joanne Porter. Dr. Porter surveyed the marine life present in the pots, creels and ropes. These data now form part of an ongoing research project in Scapa Flow.
Over the winter, Rich Walker, one of the divers on the 2015 project, gave a series of talks and meetings around the country and identified a group of UK divers that were keen to engage in the Ghost Fishing mission. These divers were invited to come to Scapa Flow in 2016. Bob Anderson of
MV Halton supported the project, and World Animal Protection donated a significant portion of the funding. The divers were taught how to survey and recover ghost fishing gear and also how to perform simple marine life assessments. Representatives from Cornwall, Bristol and Norfolk joined
the project, along with the existing team from 2015.
Now and the Future
The Scapa Flow project is now an annual flagship event and Ghost Fishing UK are actively training new divers on the ‘Ghost Fishing course’ created in early 2018. Groups of regional divers are now active in responding to reports of Ghost Gear and setting up local projects to remove it.