Ghost Fishing UK Must Pay for Licence to Recover Ghost Nets
The team of volunteer divers who are dedicating their time to removing 'ghost' fishing gear from the UK's waters may have to pay to do so in the future.
Ghost Fishing UK, the part of the larger global Ghost Fishing initiative and in partnership with the Healthy Seas initiative and Milliken Carpets, who utilise the recycled gear during their manufacturing process, successfully removed 100kg of monofilament line and nets from the wreck of the SS James Eagan Layne off the coast of Cornwall, UK, earlier this month.
The highly trained, experienced team of divers had dedicated the previous weekend to carefully inspecting the trapped nets, which present an entanglement hazard to both marine life and, potentially, other divers, carefully freeing any animals they found trapped in the nets before returning a week later to remove the nets from the wreck.
A news article published on the UK Government's website states that the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), in order to clarify existing licensing guidance, 'is reviewing the marine licensing process to ensure that it is as efficient as possible, offers value for money and proportionately manages risks to the marine environment.'
The MMO further states that 'a lifting bag can be used to remove an object (including marine litter) up to 100kg provided the object has been there for less than 12 months. Beyond that, a marine licence is required. [The MMO] has also clarified that marine litter does not include abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear (ALDFG).'
While the MMO licensing arrangement might be in place to prevent well-meaning divers from getting into difficulty by attempting to clear ghost gear without adequate training or equipment, the news has not been welcomed by the Ghost Fishing UK team.
Rich Walker, chairman of the Ghost Fishing UK team, said that the team 'is disappointed at the new MMO advice, as our discussions with them had stated that we could retrieve marine litter up to a 100kg maximum without a licence. The new advice that abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) is not considered marine litter effectively prevents us from operating without a licence.'
Problems also occur regarding the 12-month limit placed on submerged litter, as Walker points out that 'it can be almost impossible to say how long a particular piece of litter, ALDFG or debris has been submerged.'
In order to continue their mission to remove ghost gear and other debris from the UK's waters, Ghost Fishing UK's only reasonable course of action is to obtain the MMO license. 'We have no objection to going through this process,' said Walker. 'But it is time-consuming and potentially expensive. All ghost fishing activities are conducted by volunteers and placing workloads and financial burdens on the volunteers will limit the amount of ALDFG that can be removed in the future by any volunteer based organisation.'