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Fathoms Free and Sea Shepherd Announce Partnership to Combat Ghost Gear

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Ghost nets keep killing for a long time after they are lost (Photo: Sea Shepherd UK)

Fathoms Free, a team of volunteer conservationists based in Cornwall, in the south of England, has announced a partnership with the UK branch of global conservation group Sea Shepherd, to tackle the problem of ghost gear in the UK's waters.

Divers from Fathoms Free have been conducting ghost gear retrieval operations for the last four years, with 19 events in 2017 alone. Ghost gear refers to the vast amount of fishing nets, pots and lines that are lost at sea. They take centuries to degrade, meanwhile continuing to capture live animals – including turtles, dolphins and sharks, along with smaller fish and crustaceans – which inevitably die as a result of their entanglement.

Although the actual figures are unknown, it is estimated that around 640,000 tons of ghost gear is lost in the ocean every year. 'Despite our work having had a highly notable localised benefit to the marine environment, the thing that has become apparent during this time is the sheer scale of the problem we face,' says Natallia Paliakova, Project Co-ordinator and diver for Fathoms Free. 'With a problem of this magnitude, a collaborative approach to remove this threat is essential.'

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The team from Fathoms Free after landing their haul of nets (Photo: Natallia Paliakova / Fathoms Free)

'Fathoms Free are really excited to announce our latest partnership with the inspiring team at Sea Shepherd UK on their Ghostnet Campaign,' writes Paliakova. 'Sea Shepherd UK has conducted numerous campaigns around the world removing ghost and illegal fishing gear. It has been great to meet the team and learn from their experiences during their adventures. We hope that our practical experience of ghost gear removal and recycling, and extensive expertise on the ghost gear related legislation in the UK will help contribute to their Ghostnet campaign.'

In a press release on their website, Sea Shepherd UK (SSUK) announced that they are launching its ghostnet campaign as a 'long-term operation' and will 'work closely with the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and other relevant authorities in England, Scotland and Wales to ensure that ghost fishing equipment is removed safely, legally and without harm to the environment or wildlife.'

In addition to the partnership, SSUK has recently added a new RHIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) to their fleet, with the acquisition of a high specification twin-engined Atlantic 75, formerly owned by the RNLI and Dorset Police. The RHIB has been renamed GHOST in recognition of the new campaign. Fathoms Free also work with Mark Milburn of Atlantic Scuba, based in Penryn, Cornwall. 

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Sea Shepherd UK's team with their new RHIB, GHOST (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

'Over the past few years we have partnered with numerous conservation groups to build a multi-faceted approach to tackling this issue, and two of our members hold key positions in the Global Ghost Gear Initiative,'  Natallia Paliakova told DIVE. 'There is a lot of work that goes into planning a ghost gear campaign and the desire to just get stuck in is great. Keen to make a start, we invited the Sea Shepherd UK team to join us on a ghost gear event in October 2017 prior to them launching their campaign, and conducted two retrievals on the wrecks of Volnay and Stanwood in Cornwall. The knowledge and enthusiasm of the Sea Shepherd UK team was contagious. The event was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone and we are looking forward to working with this dedicated group of divers and conservationists to advance our mutual goal of making our seas a safer place for wildlife.'

Both teams are now working hard behind the scenes surveying, planning and putting logistics in place. The MMO released a statement in 2017 informing conservation groups that licenses must be purchased for ghost gear removal operations, and Fathoms Free have had such licenses for a number of sites approved by the MMO, through consultation with Natural England, Historic England and the Ministry Of Defence.

More joint operations are alrready on the horizon, including a beach clean to be held at Gyllyngvase on 17 March as part of the Falmouth Spring Festival. Further events and news will be announced on the Fathoms Free and Sea Shepherd UK social media pages for the latest news, and potential volunteers are invited to make contact if they wish to participate in events both above and below the water.

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Sea Shepherd UK's team after a successful day's ghost net removal (Photo: Sea Shepherd UK) 



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