Clean up lost fishing gear
WARETOWN, NJ (AP) — These are the landmines of the sea, killing long after they are forgotten.
Abandoned or lost fishing gear, including pots, crab pots and nets, litters the ocean floor in coastal areas around the world. Many continue to attract, trap and kill fish and other marine life in what is known as “ghost fishing”.
Groups, governments and companies around the world are working to recover and recycle as much abandoned equipment as they can find. The goal is to protect the environment, prevent the death of marine life, eliminate threats to navigation and, in some cases, generate energy.
Pascal van Erp, a Dutch diver horrified by the amount of abandoned fishing gear he encountered, founded the Ghost Fishing Foundation to tackle the problem.
“The problem of lost hardware is huge,” he said. “It is found in all seas, oceans and inland waters at all depths, along the beach and under the sand. I think the problem can never be completely solved, but we can prevent it from getting worse by showing the problem to the public and the authorities.”
Since mankind has been fishing, it has been losing some of this gear, but the problem has become particularly acute in recent decades with rapid advances in technology and the expansion of global fishing fleets.
Industry experts and scientists estimate that commercial fishers lose about 10% of their traps a year to bad weather, currents that sweep them into remote locations, or boats that cut tie lines meant for fishing. keep them in place.
Recommended solutions include degradable panels on traps which quickly break down and allow trapped marine life to escape, and fast degrading screws on whelkpots which serve the same purpose. Many international agreements also prohibit the deliberate dumping of fishing gear at sea.
Some debris is deliberately thrown overboard; in England, small vessels can rack up landfill charges of £500 ($702) a year, prompting them to dispose of broken gear.
“The crabs are trapped in the traps and starving to death,” said John Wnek, a supervisor at the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science in New Jersey, whose students participate in a derelict fishing gear collection project in the Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. “They’re still fishing long after they’re not supposed to. It happens wherever there’s commercial fishing.”
A 2009 United Nations report estimated that there were 640,000 tonnes of fishing nets left on the ocean floor worldwide. A 2005 survey found that fishing boats in Greenland lose an average of 15 nets a day, stretching nearly 2,500 feet.
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A 2001 study suggested that ghost fishing kills 4–10 million blue crabs each year in Louisiana alone.
A 2002 study found that 260,000 traps are lost each year in the Arabian Gulf, leading the United Arab Emirates to mandate degradable panels in traps, a step other jurisdictions have also adopted. The following year, a study in South Korea off Incheon revealed 97,000 tons of abandoned fishing gear and around 1,000 tons of lost gear are recovered from the Sea of Japan each year.
The United States National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that 12 miles of net are lost each day of the North Pacific fishing season, and in Queensland, Australia, about 6,000 crab pots are lost each year.
While the scale of the problem is vast, so is the range of projects to address it. One such effort, called “Fishing For Energy,” has collected more than 3 million pounds of derelict fishing gear nationwide. He has already recovered more than 400 crab traps in Barnegat Bay and is targeting 600 more. It is also active in Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Florida.
Traps that are still usable are returned to local fishermen; those that are unusable are either recycled or burned in one of the 40 waste-to-energy incinerators operated by energy company Covanta.
The work involves volunteers taking boats out into the bay and using sonar to detect crab pots on the bay floor. They mark the spot with buoys and slowly sail over it, trying to snag the debris with a grappling hook pulled from a heavy rope. It is funded in part by a $109,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Cleanups are also underway in other countries. A September effort in Orkney, England, recovered 60 crab traps and 25 whelk traps, along with rope and netting that a local artist was using to create doormats.
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