Project Launches to Clear and Research Ghost Fishing Gear

28 September 2016, at 1:00am

UK - Global animal welfare charity World Animal Protection UK is supporting a team of specialist divers from the UK to clear lost lobster pots, fishing net and rope at Scapa Flow on the 25-30 September.

Dr Joanne Porter, a marine researcher from Heriot Watt University, will also be part of the project to study the effects of this waste and work to reduce it.

The project, initiated by Ghost Fishing UK, aims to draw together groups from around the UK and develop a skilled team of divers that can recover ghost gear both in Scapa Flow and further afield in the UK. The team will be supported by Bob Anderson, the skipper of MV Halton, and will be based in Stromness for the duration of the work. The week will focus on learning safe techniques for recovering ghost gear, surveying the marine life trapped by ghost gear, and linking these data to a global ghost gear database.

Lost or discarded fishing nets, lines and pots, otherwise known as ‘ghost gear’, continue to catch and cause the unnecessary suffering and death of marine life and place additional strain on fishing stocks. Last year on a similar mission over 60 pots, large fishing nets, two kilometres of ropes and significant amounts of other fishing debris were recovered. The pots will be offered back to fishermen and to the university, rope will be re-used and offered to a local artist who makes mats and other home furnishings from them.

At 120 square miles, Scapa Flow is one of the world’s largest natural harbours and the sea around Orkney has one of the largest concentrations of shipwrecks anywhere in the world.
Over time rubbish has accumulated on and around the wrecks including lobster pots, crab creels, whelk pots, ropes and diver shot lines.

This year the team will focus on pot removal at reported locations and returning them to their owners or for re-use. All the pots will be surveyed for marine life and all vertebrates and crustaceans present will be recorded on a global ghost gear database and released.

The project provides divers with a week’s training to enable them to lift objects from the seabed which involves cutting lines, attaching bags which are subsequently filled with air to give the required lift and monitoring their progress to the surface. They will also be trained to identify certain important species.

The shipwrecks themselves are sites of lost fishing gear, as they act as traps when fishing gear drifts on the currents. Following on from last year a website and app have been set up for recreational divers visiting the area to record any observations.

Christina Dixon, World Animal Protection UK Campaigns Manager said, “Ghost fishing is a huge global issue for marine animals – a staggering 640,000 tons of ghost gear is lost in our oceans each year. Funding this project will remove the immediate problem for marine life and also provide us with the evidence to help stop the problem in the future.”

The project partners were introduced via the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) which aims to replicate successful projects around the world for dealing with ghost gear by sharing evidence, skills and resources.

For more information about World Animal Protection UK’s Sea Change campaign click here, for more information about the project click here and for more information about Ghost Fishing UK click here.