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Report: "Ghost" Fishing Gear Killing Whales, Seals

Sea lions and other animals can be injured or killed by lost or discarded fishing gear. (Tom Campbell/Marine Photobank)
Sea lions and other animals can be injured or killed by lost or discarded fishing gear. (Tom Campbell/Marine Photobank)
March 22, 2018

MONTEREY, Calif. – About 136,000 dolphins, sea lions, seals and whales are caught in lost or discarded fishing nets each year - and the problem of so-called ghost gear is getting worse, according to a new report.

Researchers from the nonprofit World Animal Protection estimate that fishermen, mostly commercial, lose or abandon 640,000 tons of gear in oceans each year. Elizabeth Hogan, the group's ocean and wildlife program manager, said one major concern is plastic nets that continue to do what they were designed to do: catch and kill sea creatures.

"Any fish that is trapped in lost fishing gear is fish that no one will get to eat, that no fisherman will get to sell, and that fish will no longer get to continue the species,” Hogan said; “which is very bad news for the fishery, economically speaking, as well as for the marine ecosystem."

The nets are often lost in storms or are left behind when they get caught on rocks. The report called for greater participation in the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, led by seafood companies trying to train fishing crews to adopt best practices so they avoid hazards and lose less gear. It also praises local efforts to recover and recycle lost fishing gear.

Hogan said shoppers can help, too, by looking for labels at the seafood counter that indicate a company is certified as environmentally conscious. She cited Monterey Bay Seafood and the Marine Stewardship Council as examples.

"I would say for the consumer to look at seafood companies that do make use of certification programs that do pay attention to lost gear and factor that into purchasing,” she said.

The report said many commercial fishing nets are made of plastics that can last up to 600 years in the water. Even those that do break down simply turn into microplastics, which are then mistaken for food and ingested by fish.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA