Ghost Fishing

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Fishermen can lose or damage their fishing gear.  As well as being financially costly to fishermen this can be a danger to the marine environment, and can lead to ghost fishing. “Ghost fishing” can be defined as the capture of any marine organism once control of the gear has been lost by the fisherman (Brown and Macfayden, 2007).

Previous studies carried out on the impact of ghost nets in deep-water fisheries suggest that it may be a “significant source of unaccounted mortality for both target and by-catch species” (Graham et al., 2006, p.6). These impacts were explored in the EC-funded Pilot Project “Recuperation of Fishing Nets Lost or Abandoned at Sea” that was designed to (Graham et al., 2006, p.9):

  • conduct targeted retrieval exercises of lost, discarded and abandoned nets in deep-water  fisheries > 200m.
  • conduct structured surveys in order to estimate the quantity and range of ghost nets in these fisheries.
Why Ghost Nets Occur
Ghost Nets Washed up on Cork Coastline (Image Credit: Orla-Peach Power)

It is important to note that ghost nets are not always present due to abandonment or negligence. Lost nets can occur due to factors and conditions otherwise outside the control of the fisherman such as adverse weather conditions and gear malfunctions. Similarly these factors and conditions can result in the abandonment of operational netting in the short-term with the intention of later recovery. Nets may also be abandoned with no intention of retrieval. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (Macfayden et al., 2009) the cost of gear retrieval and the cost and availability of onshore collection facilities are also factors in the loss and damage of fishing gear.

The Impact of Ghost Fishing
Discarded Lobster Pots (Image Credit: Orla-Peach Power)

In their comprehensive report, Macfayden et al. (2009, p.55) mention that gillnets, trammell nets and pots/traps have a high ghost fishing potential while other gear, such as trawls and longlines, are more likely to cause entanglement, and habitat damage. This means that lost nets or traps can continue to catch and kill a wide range of marine life. Incidents of ghost fishing in Irish waters are relatively low due to disciplined maintenance of gear by Irish fishermen (Brown and Macfayden, 2007). However, there have been reports of damage being done to nets, particularly by seals, which can put further financial pressures on the Irish commercial fishing industry (Cronin et al., 2014).


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