Put the fear in Ghost Gear

We recently partnered with Ghost Fishing UK, an award-winning independent charity, established in 2015 with the purpose of removing harmful ‘ghost gear’ from the ocean. Two volunteers from Valpak, Cam Hall, and Sarah Swaine, joined the Ghost Fishing team in a project off the coast of Plymouth. Sarah provides a summary of the trip and an overview of the charity's work in her latest blog.

Not to be confused with hunting for the supernatural or the activities of the Mystery Gang, “Ghost Fishing” describes the destructive cycle of derelict fishing gear continuing to catch and kill marine life. This has an indisputable effect on our oceans with around 640,000 tonnes of ghost gear entering the sea each year. This makes up approximately 10% of global marine plastic pollution and in some areas up to 50% (Environmental Investigation Agency).

But there are charities and organisations that are combatting this issue and are committed to removing this phantom equipment from our waters.

Ghost Fishing UK is a fantastic UK-based charity, made up of over 70 volunteers, including specially trained scuba divers. Its aim is to minimise the impact of marine debris in Britain’s waters by removing and recovering abandoned, lost, and discarded fishing gear, known as “Ghost Gear”.

The problem with ghost gear

Rarely on purpose, the loss of fishing equipment is inevitable. The sea is a hard environment to work in, and at times an uncooperative colleague. Lines snap, nets entangle, and pots get lost. Not only can equipment be costly to replace, but it poses a lethal hazard by continuing to fish.

Ghost gear is a long-standing problem with a devastating effect on the ocean’s pollution and its ecosystem. It’s a vicious cycle where bait lures catch into the traps, it dies because it is unable to escape and in turn becomes the bait. This has further repercussions on local fishing communities which are at risk of depleting an area if lost equipment continues to catch.

Encouraging the help of the many

Ghost Fishing UK is eager to form a mutually beneficial relationship with the fishing industry. It has worked tirelessly to promote the work it does, since it was established in 2015, to raise public and government awareness of the issues surrounding ghost fishing and its consequences on our oceans.

While there is still a way to go, local skippers are making use of the charity and its expertise. As one of Valpak’s representatives on Ghost Fishing’s latest expedition, I saw the team conduct a successful salvage operation for a local fisherman. His line had become caught on the reef and snapped. Our divers successfully untangled it for him, and he was able to reclaim his gear and continue fishing as normal.

Though a relatively simple recovery, this is not always the case. Aptly named for its allusiveness, locating ghost gear can be a tricky task. Search areas can be vast and working against the tide with a limited air supply, divers can only cover a small distance.

Thanks to a handy reporting system on its website, Ghost Fishing UK has moved to encourage locals, skippers, and other divers to report any lost equipment or sighting of potential ghost gear. This information is invaluable. The more detail they can obtain, the easier it is to survey an area.

Yet even with these reports, the team can’t say for certain what they’ll find. Ghost gear is usually entangled on wrecks or the reef, and a dive is always a trick-or-treat situation. The team might find gear is difficult to remove or that a line, which has been there for an extended period, is still live and in use. But our expedition was a treat! We were able to recover multiple traps and ropes, and return a few crabs, starfish, and sea cucumbers to the sea!

What happens to recovered ghost gear?

  • Repaired and reused by the fishing community
  • Recovered plastic is broken down and recycled. For example, it is turned into sunglasses and kayaks!
  • Salvaged fishing nets are used for fabrics to make headliners, trim, and floor mats for cars made by brands such as BMW, and Jaguar Land Rover.

Valpak’s sponsorship

Though my colleague and I only took part in above water work, I was thrilled to represent Valpak and its sponsorship of such an incredible charity that can put its unique expertise to a worthy cause. But there is still a long way to go. The impact of organisations like Ghost Fishing UK is only a drop in the ocean (pun intended), but by raising awareness and the consequences of not removing derelict gear, we will be able to direct some much-needed aid to these charities.