The UN Commits to Fighting Ghost Gear!

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has agreed to an historic commitment that all large scale fishing nets must be tagged, a big safety win for aquatic animals.

What is Ghost Gear?

So-called “ghost” fishing nets or “ghost gear” kill thousands of animals every year, including aquatic mammals like seals, turtles and dolphins. These nets, which have been abandoned, lost or simply thrown away, are floating freely in the sea and inevitably catch animals in their wake.

It’s estimated that there may be as much as 640,000 tons of fishing gear  left in our oceans every year, leading to an estimated 136,000 animal deaths every year.

It’s important to acknowledge that while some illegal fishing operations will jettison their fishing gear in order to avoid being caught, many legal fishing operations may lose their fishing gear quite by accident. Yet, this fact does not help the thousands of animals who succumb to drowning, lacerations and starvation as a result of being caught in the free-floating fishing gear.

That’s why groups like World Animal Protection have been fighting for the United Nations FAO to implement a system of tagging fishing nets. This solution might sound simple, but it closes holes in current regulations that will make it more difficult for illegal fishing operations to continue. It will also mean fishing authorities can trace lost “ghost gear” back to the vessels they belong to and work with the owners to ensure their gear doesn’t go missing.

This is not about penalizing legal fishing operations but rather creating accountability and ways of ensuring that nets are being disposed of properly, thereby safeguarding sea animals and the aquatic environment as a whole.

Ghost Gear and Ocean Plastic Pollution

As a recent survey by the group The Ocean Clean Up points out, this is also good news on a secondary front: plastic pollution. Their research suggests that of the considerable amount of plastic pollution in our seas, about 70 percent of the so-called “macro plastics” is down to discarded or lost fishing nets.

Given how deeply damaging plastic is to marine life and how nets can act as flails to effectively skin shallow reefs and damage the coral, getting the ghost gear problem under control seems a small action point that could have big payoffs.

It’s also something that many island nations are calling for.

The Fight to Track Ghost Gear

Just this past week The Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) hailed the work that is being down among island leaders to work toward solutions on plastic waste, but island nations can’t solve this problem on their own. Nor should they have to.

The West’s desire to continually expand has spread across the world, bringing a rising tide of rubbish with it. Working with nations who are most at threat from this plastic pollution is, therefore, paramount.

Returning to the issue of tagging fishing gear, one approach mentioned by the PIDF that the FAO may use would be to adopt a scheme piloted by The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). Members tracked the distribution of Fish Aggregating Devices, also known as FADs. These net bits of gear attract fish like skipjack and yellowfin tuna.

Existing satellite technology can track FADs, meaning that with some work they could effectively be traced wherever they are in the water. This would not solve the entirety of the ghost gear problem, but it does demonstrate that by exploiting existing technology we can find neat solutions to this issue for relatively low investment. 

Regardless, that the FAO has agreed to take action on this issue is a significant victory for wildlife campaigners and for overall sea life management, because it represents yet another dedicated action to clean up the fishing industry. Now those words must translate into actions.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Freddie Williams
Freddie Williams9 months ago

They should be penalised as well. Legal fishermen will still dump the gear if there are no penalties.

hELEN hEARFIELD9 months ago


HEIKKI R9 months ago

thank you

Sherri S
Sherri S9 months ago

I agree with Terri S and Heather G

Terri S
Terri S9 months ago

I suggested the tagging of all fishing gear in a comment I made on this site months ago. Damn, somebody listened to me!! Just kidding - I'm sure they thought of this before my little brain did.

Margie FOURIE9 months ago

I saw that many turtles had been caught in fishing nets. Horrible.

heather g
heather g9 months ago

Irresponsible people don't ever think of the consequences of their actions. All sea life can suffer for all they care. It's very sad. The junk they leave behind after fishing for salmon is enough to open a fishing tackle shot.

Shirley S
Shirley S9 months ago

Good news.

Denise D
Denise D9 months ago

Good news, but we all know this will be a tough fight.

RK R9 months ago

Do you wonder if the oceans are so environmentally out of balance they are dieing and we are blinded by that fact due to our eye for denial?