Ghost Fishing UK Clears Masses of Fishing Net From SS Epsilon Wreck

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Some of the nets in situ before being removed (Photo: Ghost Fishing UK)

Marine Charity Ghost Fishing UK (GFUK) has this week removed a large mass of fishing gear from the wreck of the SS Epsilon, a Dutch cargo ship which sank near Falmouth in Cornwall, UK, after striking a German mine in 1917.

Diving from the fishing and diving vessel Seawatch 1, the team of highly trained volunteer divers retrieved a 'large mass' of fishing gear from the broken up wreckage of the Epsilon. The haul included two large trawl nets, a fine monofilament net designed for catching flatfish, and two weighty lobster pots. According to the team, the ropes used to secure and lift the flatfish net were missing, leading to a suspicion that it had been deliberately – and therefore illegally – dumped at sea.

Diver Jason Bramwell said 'there is so much [ghost fishing gear] down there. We only stayed in one spot and filed all of our bags.'

Ghost Fishing UK is currently carrying out its annual 'Big Project' – which this year is all about cleaning up Cornwall. Two recovery dives have already been completed which filled a trailer full of ghost gear. The team will see out the week with a number of further expeditions to recover abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear (ALDFG), followed by beach cleans at Marazion and Maeporth beaches on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.

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Divers preparing for the removal and part of the haul on board Seawatch 1 (Photo: Ghost Fishing UK)

The phenomenon known as 'ghost fishing' has a devastating impact on marine life and their habitats. When fishing equipment such as huge trawl or gill nets, ropes and lines is lost to the ocean, they continue to 'fish', capturing and killing species that range from small crustaceans, birds, fish and turtles to seals, whales and dolphins. The dead animals serve as bait, and the cycle continues unless the ghost gear is removed.

Most fishing gear is made from synthetic plastic fibres which eventually break down into microplastics, which are then accidentally ingested by marine life, and subsequently enter the food chain - including that of humans. Microplastics have been found in shellfish, Arctic snowfall, and supermarket salt.

A key part of the work done by GFUK revolves around understanding what marine life, and how much marine life is snared, trapped, or suffocated by ghost gear. The statistics gathered by GFUK on their dives around the UK is vital toward understanding the magnitude of the problem.

The data that they collect from their survey and recovery dives is shared with citizen science organization Sea Search. Sea Search trained the divers from Ghost Fishing UK in how to identify the flora and fauna that they find.

At least 46 per cent of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is from discarded fishing nets (2018, Ocean Cleanup), and The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) conservatively estimate that some 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear is left in our oceans each year.



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