Ghost Fishing Resumes Activities After Covid-19 Lockdown
Ocean clean-up charity Ghost Fishing UK returned to the water this month for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown began. A team of volunteer scuba divers cleared 126kg of lost fishing gear from the waters off Plymouth, UK, saving the lives of hundreds of marine animals.
Charity trustee and operations manager Fred Nunn, who has been with the organisation from the start, said: 'It's been very stressful organising the first project since lockdown started, there are so many more restrictions and considerations to plan for on top of all the usual ones for a Ghost Fishing UK project. But the sheer enthusiasm that is radiating from our volunteers is infectious! I can't wait to get back to what we do best.'
Lost and abandoned fishing gear – known as 'ghost gear' – is increasingly regarded as a significant threat to the world's oceans. Fishing nets, pots and lines continue to trap and kill vast numbers of marine life long after the equipment – which can take centuries to decompose – has been discarded. In 2019, Ghost Fishing UK removed over a tonne of lost fishing gear from the sea around the UK, from Scotland to Cornwall. The recovered fishing net was sent to Europe for recycling for a range of products, thus keeping it out of landfill sites.
Divers from around the country can report their findings using the Ghost Fishing UK reporting form, but the charity is also keen to work with the local fishing community to locate and recover lost fishing gear before it does any prolonged and significant harm to the local wildlife.
Trustee and secretary, Christine Grosart explains, 'Ghost gear doesn’t know it is lost so it continues fishing around the clock indefinitely. It can take hundreds of years to degrade and even then, it causes a secondary issue which is micro-plastics. We want to work with the fishing community, not to point the finger of blame as we know that fishing gear is expensive and rarely deliberately lost, but to gain information about where it has been lost so we can go and retrieve it. If we can locate a fisherman who loses crab pots, for example, we will often try to return them for re-use. This keeps them out of landfill and stops the pots from ghost fishing any longer.'
For the first post-lockdown cleanup, six divers set off in strong winds and bumpy seas aboard ‘Seeker’ from Plymouth's In Deep Dive Centre, to undertake a survey of nets which had been reported on the wreck of the SS James Eagan Layne. The divers found a mixture of fishing detritus such as monofilament, nylon net, old shot ropes and broken up lobster pots.
Following an evening of planning, the team returned the following day equipped with knives and lifting bags to remove the lost fishing gear from the wreck. The six divers each spent 100 minutes in the water to recover more than 100kg of net from the wreck, which will later be sent for recycling.
Charity chairman Dr Richard Walker said: 'the challenges that the COVID-19 virus has placed on everyone have been significant, but we are pleased to say that the team at Ghost Fishing UK has been working hard behind the scenes during this difficult time, and are in a stronger position because of this effort. I’m delighted that a strong team of Ghost Fishing UK divers worked for the past two days to survey and recover ghost nets from the shipwreck of the James Eagan Layne. Our efforts over the past few months mean that we’ve hit the ground running, and each time we go out the seas become safer and cleaner for all.'
For more information, visit www.ghostfishing.co.uk where you can get involved with the project, or make a donation to help keep the seas free of ghost gear. If you are a UK scuba diver and want to report a finding of lost, discarded or abandoned fishing gear, complete the reporting form for the team to investigate.