World Oceans Day: Protecting sea animals and their habitats from ghost fishing gear

Today is World Oceans Day. This day celebrates our oceans and marine life.

One of the greatest threats to our oceans’ health is plastic pollution. A growing rubbish dump under the waves is affecting everything, from the smallest zooplankton up to the majestic whale. In January, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation published a report warning that plastic will soon outnumber fish in the ocean.

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Ghost fishing gear is one the most common culprits

Around 10% (6440,000 tonnes) of the plastic litter that is added each year to our oceans are fishing gear. Ocean Conservancy and CSIRO (the research arm of Australia’s Government) recently discovered that ghost gear, which is abandoned, lost, or discarded fishing equipment, poses the greatest threat to marine animals.

These floating death traps kill thousands of animals every year, including hundreds and thousands of turtles, whales, and seals. Animals can become entangled and drown in minutes, or they can suffer pain for months or years.

Ghost fishing gear traps a seal in California, USA. Image: Kanna Jones / Marine Photobank

Ghost gear, which is largely made from plastic, can remain in the oceans for up 600 years. Eventually, it will break down into smaller, more toxic pieces called micro-plastics.

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Collaboration with the United Nations

Today is World Oceans Day. We are hosting an event at UN Headquarters in New York. This will shine a light on the crisis and call for urgent, high-level, action to address it. The event was co-hosted jointly by Sweden and Tonga, along with co-sponsors Australia and New Zealand, Fiji and Palau, Thailand, Vanuatu and Vanuatu. It promotes a collaborative approach between the governments, civil society, fishermen, and the seafood industry.

It is promoting the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, the cross-sectoral alliance that was founded by us, as the vehicle for facilitating this process.

Although there is still much to be done, there has been significant progress. In April, I was in Rome with other experts from around the globe to discuss and create international guidelines for marking fishing gear. The FAO organized this expert consultation after several countries raised concerns about the issue and its effects on marine ecosystems, fisheries and human livelihoods.

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Ghost gear: Keep track

These guidelines provide a framework for universally applying the draft guidelines. They include practical methods of identifying ownership and whereabouts of fishing equipment. Gear marking, if implemented by the fishing industry would encourage better management practices, aid in gear retrieval, and help to prevent accidental and deliberate loss of fishing equipment.

It could be used to help authorities avoid illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing cases and assist those involved in rescue operations for entangled animals in identifying the source of the entanglement.

Together with others from the World Animal Protection Sea Change group, I will lobby governments to ask them to support the creation of these guidelines for gear marking. We also ask them to prioritize coordinated action on ghost gear during the FAO’s Committee of Fisheries meeting this July.

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Collaboration is the key to achieving our goals

We hope that the United Nations’ goal to reduce marine litter by 2025 is achieved by uniting all efforts around the globe. This will ensure that ghost gear does not pose a threat for our oceans or the animals and humans who depend on it.