New Study Shows Shocking Amount of Fishing Gear at the Bottom of Our Oceans

by Emily Morgan
Photo by: ultramarinfoto

According to reports, there is enough commercial fishing line in the ocean to stretch to the moon and back. The harrowing report is the most comprehensive research done on lost fishing gear. The astonishing amounts of lost gear, including 25 million pots and traps and 14 billion hooks, likely had fatal consequences for marine life, per one of the study’s authors.

In addition, enough nets were either lost or thrown out each year to cover the entire nation of Scotland. Moreso, if someone tied all of the lost lines together, it could stretch around the Earth a whopping 18 times.

“This is super confronting,” admitted Dr. Denise Hardesty of the Australian government’s CSIRO science agency and one of the study’s authors.

She added: “This is having an unimaginable toll of unknown deaths that could result in population-level effects for marine wildlife.” Researchers from CSIRO and the University of Tasmania studied interviews with 451 commercial fishers in seven countries.

They interviewed fishing companies in the United States, Morocco, Indonesia, Belize, Peru, Iceland, and New Zealand. According to their study, smaller boats lost more gear than larger boats, and bottom-trawl fishers lost more nets than midwater trawlers.

Hardesty said losing nets were often due to poor weather where equipment wasn’t secured entirely or floated away. In addition, the gear also became entangled with equipment from other vessels that were fishing the same fish.

Study shows lost, thrown-out fishing gear has dire consequences for marine life

Since nets were designed to catch and kill prey, lost gear would continue to entangle animals for years as they floated in the ocean, sank to the bottom, or washed up on shore.

“That’s birds, turtles, whales, sharks, dolphins, dugongs,” she said. “You are then also catching a whole bunch of fish but then not eating them. That becomes a food security problem because that’s protein that’s not feeding people around the world.”

Kelsey Richardson, a lead author from the University of Tasmania, said the detailed report should help fisheries managers, the commercial fishing sector, and conservationists find better solutions to this environmental issue. Additionally, the nets don’t help the plastic pollution problem in our oceans.

As for steps to combat this, Hardesty said local governments could introduce buy-backs of older fishing gear which typically gets lost more often than new equipment.

For solutions, you could attach tags or labels. In addition, harbor masters could introduce free facilities to allow anglers to throw away their unusable nets in a proper manner.

Richard Leck, head of oceans at WWF Australia, said: “These figures are breathtaking. This gives us a sense of the horrendous scale of the problem and the urgent need to tackle it. Ghost nets are a particularly lethal form of plastic pollution for all the marine life we care about. Once these nets are lost from a fishing vessel, they don’t stop fishing.”

He added: “This affects all countries – not just the places where nets are lost. This gear can migrate around oceans and continue to catch fish and entangle threatened species.”