by Daniel Ooko
NAIROBI, May 6 (Xinhua) -- Large amounts of fishing gear lost at sea or
abandoned by fishers are hurting the marine environment, impacting fish stocks
through "ghost fishing" and posing a hazard to ships, a joint UN report said on
According to the report jointly produced by the UN Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the problem
of abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) is getting worse
due to the increased scale of global fishing operations and the introduction of
highly durable fishing gear made of long-lasting synthetic materials.
The report estimates that abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear in the
oceans makes up around 10 percent (640,000 tonnes) of all marine litter.
Merchant shipping is the primary source on the open sea and land-based
sources are the predominate cause of marine debris in coastal areas, it says.
Most fishing gear is not deliberately discarded but is lost in storms or
strong currents or results from "gear conflicts". For example, fishing with nets
in areas where bottom-traps that can entangle them are already deployed.
The main impacts of abandoned or lost fishing gear are continued catches of
fish, known as "ghost fishing", and other animals such as turtles, seabirds, and
marine mammals, who are trapped and die, alterations of the sea-floor
environment, and the creation of navigation hazards that can cause accidents at
sea and damage boats.
Gill nets, fishing pots and traps are most likely to "ghost fish", while
long lines are more likely to catch up other marine organisms and trawls most
likely to damage sub-sea habitats.
"The amount of fishing gear remaining in the marine environment will
continue to accumulate and the impacts on marine ecosystems will continue to get
worse if the international community doesn't take effective steps to deal with
the problem of marine debris as a whole.
Strategies for addressing the problem must occur on multiple fronts,
including prevention, mitigation, and curative measures," said Ichiro Nomura,
FAO Assistant Director-General for Fisheries and Aquaculture.
He also noted that FAO is working closely with the International Maritime
Organization (IMO) in its ongoing review of Annex V of the International
Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) as regards
fishing gear and shore side reception facilities.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said
there are many "ghosts in the marine environment machine" from over fishing and
acidification linked with greenhouse gases to the rise in de-oxygenated 'dead
zones' as a result of run off and land-based source of pollution.
"Abandoned and lost fishing is part of this suite of challenges that must
be urgently addressed collectively if the productivity of our oceans and seas is
to be maintained for this and future generations, not least for achievement of
the UN Millennium Development Goals," said Steiner.
The report says economic incentives could encourage fishers to report lost
gear or bring to port old and damaged gear, as well as any ghost nets they might
recover accidentally while fishing.
In the past, poorly operated drift nets were the prime culprits, but a 1992
ban on their use in many areas has reduced their contribution to ghost fishing.
Today, bottom set gill nets are more often-cited as a problem. The bottom
edge of these nets is anchored to the sea floor and floats are attached to their
top, so that they form a vertical undersea wall of netting that can run anywhere
from 600 to 10,000 meters in length.
If a gillnet is abandoned or lost, it can continue to fish on its own for
months and sometimes years, indiscriminately killing fish and other animals.
Traps and pots are another major ghost fisher. In the Chesapeake Bay of the
United States, an estimated 150,000 crab traps are lost each year out of an
estimated 500,000 total deployed, the report says.
On just the single Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, about 20,000of all traps
set each year are lost each hurricane season, a loss rate of 50 percent. Like
gill nets, these traps can continue to fish on their own for long periods of
Not all trash gear is deliberately dumped, so marking should not be used to
"identify offenders" but rather better understand the reasons for gear loss and
identify appropriate, fishery-specific preventative measures.
New technologies offer new possibilities for reducing the probability of
ghost fishing. Sea-bed imaging can be used to avoid undersea snags and
obstacles, it says.
It notes that fishing equipment can be expensive, and many fishers often go
to great lengths to retrieve lost gear. Technology that makes doing so easier
Using GPS, vessels can mark locations where gear has been lost,
facilitating retrieval, and transponders can be fitted to gear in order to do
the same. Similarly, improvements in weather monitoring technology can be used
to help skippers avoid deploying nets when very bad weather is imminent.
A key recommendation of the report is that vessels should be required to
log gear losses as a matter of course. However a "no-blame" approach should be
followed with respect to liability for losses, their impacts, and any recovery
efforts, it says.
The goal should be to improve awareness of potential hazards and increase
the opportunity for gear recovery.
"Clearly solutions to this problem do exist, and our hope is that this
report will prompt industry and governments to take action to significantly
reduce the amount of lost or abandoned fishing gear in the marine environment,"