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Ghost nets and the harm they inflict on marine flora and fauna is a global issue. Regardless of where fishing with nets occurs the circulation and currents in the oceans can transport abandoned, lost and discarded nets, ghost nets, vast distances and these nylon nets can last up to 600 years. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the UN estimates over 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear is lost to the ocean each year; that’s roughly one tenth of all marine litter.

As the nets drift through the ocean they do what they were designed to do, catch fish; but with no one to haul the net in and remove the fish, the fish filled nets stay in the water, attracting animals that try to feed on the fish – this is ghost fishing. These animals in turn get caught up in the nets which results in entanglement, harm or immediate death due to drowning. Ghost fishing maims and kills hundreds of thousands of marine fauna every year, from fish to turtles to whales to sea birds. Some animals that are entangled suffer from sever lacerations and infections that eventually result in death or the attached nets slow their movement which makes it more difficult for the animal to either evade a predator or to catch prey. Nets also cause significant damage to coral reefs by smothering them or exposing them to invasive species and parasites.

It is an issue that is easy to over look as it is not something that is highly visible to the general public unless they spend significant time near beaches or see the occasional news article covering a sensational rescue of an individual animal.  But this is an issue that everyone should be aware of given the damage it is causing to the marine environment and to commercial fisheries. Having marine mammals and economically important fish dying for no reason and in such a horrible way, is disgraceful and we should be doing better.

Despite this issue being acknowledged over 35 years ago by the FAO, there seems to have been little to no action to mitigate the problem at national or international levels. The good news is that it is starting to pick up traction as a significant ocean issue and measures are being taken at both grassroots and international levels. Governing bodies are trying to develop methods to mark nets to determine ownership and grassroots organizations are organizing clean-ups and looking for novel ways to recycle and reuse the nets, an example being NetWorks which collects nets and recycles them into carpets. NetWorks pays fishermen to bring in the nets and pays them for it which for many is there only source of income, as the fish they once caught are all gone.



  1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Improving ocean health through the elimination of ghost gear


  1. Olive Ridley Project

What Are Ghost Nets


  1. National Geographic

These Communities Turn Discarded Fishing Nets Into Carpets

  1. ABC

‘Ghost gear’ killing hundreds of thousands of whales, seals, turtles and birds

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