What are ghost nets?
Ghost nets are those fishing nets that have been intentionally discarded away at sea or on beaches. They are the largest contributors to ghost gear, which generally refers to all the different types of fishing gear, including nets, traps, pots, etc that no longer serve any purpose in benefitting the fishing industry and are not used by fishers or fisheries. Each year these ghost nets contribute to the trapping and killing of millions of marine animals and create a severe imbalance in the marine ecosystem.
How do ghost nets impact the environment and marine life?
- Ghost nets inflict painful bodily damage towards marine animals, injuring them and killing many. Vulnerable marine species easily get entangled in these carelessly discarded ghost nets. They get caught in them and often find it very difficult to untangle. It restricts their movement and eventually leads to death caused by starvation or by becoming an easy prey for their predator.
- Ghost nets are also notorious for destroying corals by getting hooked to them. Powerful ocean currents pull on these fishing nets and tear off pieces of coral, damaging the reefs and hence destroying a source of food and shelter for hundreds of marine species.
- Ghost nets greatly harm biodiversity for a number of reasons. A primary reason being due to the fact that they harm coral reefs exposing them to disease and blocking essential sunlight supply. Now when these corals are damaged the marine species that are directly dependent on these corals will also be affected. Many of them will die, and in serious cases this may lead to extinction of these species in that particular area. But this chain of damage actually does not end here because now when these species are gone those animals that prey on them to fulfil their nutritional demands will also be directly affected and many might die due to starvation led by the food shortage and in this way the damage will continue for years and years.
- Most fishing nets and other fishing equipment are made from Nylon which is a plastic that does not easily decompose. What this implies is that the fishing nets that are lost in the ocean will continue to catch fish for many years, killing hundreds of millions of marine animals. These nets will also catch baby fish and other species that might be under threat of extinction.
Here are some Important Statistics that will help you get a better understanding regarding the gravity of this situation:
- Around 30% of all fish are said to be caught in ghost nets and about 10%, that is 640,000 tons, of the total marine debris also find themselves strangulated in these discarded nets.
- Thousands of seabirds and around 20,000 northern fur seals have been caught in ghost nets.
- Over a 23 week time duration, around 1300 spiny dogfish, 450 salmon, 1,800 birds, 11 harbor seals and 16,900 crabs have been caught in a single net.
What are the possible solutions?
To come up with an effective solution to end this crisis, we need to act and think responsibly. There are many ways that we can help minimize the number of fish and marine animals that get caught in these ghost nets.
We have listed some of them below:
1) Strict Policies
The introduction of strict policies and laws on national and international levels is absolutely mandatory if we want to map out an effective plan to wipe out this problem. Governments should take strict action against those who cause this problem. Introducing fishing gear that can be traced back to the owners will also help because this would make it easier to hold them accountable. People that are caught involved in such activities must be fined. This might sound a bit harsh to some of you, but the truth is that it is unavoidable. The damage that these ghost nets are causing is far too great to take this matter lightly.
2) Recycling Programs
Frequent and interactive recycling programs can be more beneficial than you think! It is a very effective way to minimize this problem because it can help prevent derelict gear from becoming “ghost gear” in the first place. How? Well, we can have fishermen return their worn-out nets and traps to their respective ports for recycling. In this way, this old fishing gear can be benefited from and there would be less littering in the oceans as well.
3) Biodegradable fishing nets
The usage of biodegradable fishing nets is also an excellent way of dealing with this problem because even if these fishing nets are left out in the oceans they will cause minimal damage and eventually, return back to nature. If created from the right materials, these nets could even have a positive impact on marine life by providing additional nutrients or as a source of food.
4) Frequent Clean-ups
The general public should be encouraged to engage in clean-up camps. This can be done in the form of weekly or monthly camps and can be incentivized to attract more people by offering social work certificates and similar awards. This will also greatly help raise awareness and will get more people involved in taking this matter under strict consideration.
5) Education And Knowledge
As it is rightfully said, knowledge is power so what else could be a better way to stop this problem if not through education? The government and other social work organizations can help educate fishermen about the dangers posed by their littering activities. It will help them realize the damage they are inflicting and will greatly help reduce this problem.
We hope this article helped you understand the dangers posed by ghost nets and inspired you to take responsible action to help combat this problem. Make sure to spread the word regarding this issue and help raise awareness. The marine species and our environment are calling out for help from you!